When the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap was taken off the table for social and supported housing, we welcomed the announcement. We saw it as an opportunity to have a much more productive conversation about securing the long-term future of supported and sheltered housing.
Catherine Ryder is Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation
9 November 2017
There are definite positives in the subsequent consultation proposals published by the Government last week. While there is still much detail to be worked through, keeping funding for housing costs for long-term, sheltered and extra care schemes in the benefit system, without an LHA cap, has the potential to provide the certainty the sector has long been arguing for.
However, the proposals for short-term and transitional services signal a potentially significant change, with funding coming from a ring-fenced grant to local government.
Short-term services offer support and a home to some of the most marginalised people in our society. These services need funding security over the long-term, which is currently provided by the housing benefit system. However the monthly structure of Universal Credit causes problems for very short stay residents so we need to look for another solution, hence the proposed local system.
Housing associations are, in my experience, very positive and experienced in taking imperfect systems and structures and making them work. However, many have questioned whether a local system, where services are commissioned based on an assessment of need, will provide the necessary funding security in any meaningful form long into the future. The Government says their intention is that the ring-fence will be retained in the long-term, and the grant will take account of the cost of the provision and need. But an intention cannot be cast iron. We all witnessed what happened when the ring-fence was removed from Supporting People Funding. Even the most optimistic of our members are worried about the increased risk proposal this represents.
Housing associations provide the great majority of these services and are rightly proud of the difference they make to people’s lives who often have nowhere else to turn. But a hostel for homeless people or a transitional scheme for people with mental health difficulties is expensive to build and expensive to maintain over its lifetime. There is no guarantee that housing costs will continue to be covered in a way that makes this viable under these proposals.
If we don’t get this right, housing associations are concerned they will be forced into making decisions they don’t want to make. And we must remember, this isn't just about businesses, this is about doing the best we can for vulnerable people who rely on supported housing. We need to be very careful it doesn’t feel like the safety net of housing benefit is being taken away and being replaced with something that feels far less certain.
So, despite the initial collective sigh of relief, there is more to do to put all supported housing on a secure long-term footing. We need to understand where Universal Credit is a problem for supported housing and design a system that is able to provide long-term funding security where there is a gap. The consultation offers the opportunity to get this right. I urge people to come along to our member events and feedback to the Government on the detail of the consultation. This work is an absolute priority for the Federation. We have seen what the collective voice of the sector can achieve on the LHA cap through Starts At Home. We now need to concentrate our efforts on the next stage.