Vital services have been protected and we can get on with the task of expanding and improving them

It doesn’t happen very often but just occasionally you start the day with a piece of unalloyed good news. Today’s government announcement that all housing costs for supported and sheltered housing will be retained in the housing benefit system is such a day.

David Orr

By David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation

9 August 2018

In November 2015 the then chancellor announced that support for housing costs in the social sector would be capped at the rate of the Local Housing Allowance. We knew immediately that this would cause difficulties across the board but we assumed that it couldn’t include supported housing. We contacted officials in the Treasury to seek clarification and were astonished to discover that it did indeed include supported and sheltered housing.

It was obvious from the start that the proposed new system couldn’t work. As a direct consequence, plans for new supported and sheltered housing were shelved almost completely. We entered a period of huge uncertainty for both the people who live in supported housing and those who provide it. Vital support for some of the country’s most vulnerable people was under threat.

Our response? We started a campaign. Starts at Home used the real, positive stories of those who live in supported housing to tell the country how important these services are. It made sure that MPs up and down the country fully understood the human impact of the proposed changes in their constituencies. Housing associations took their MPs to visit services, to meet the people affected and explained the long term consequences.

No-one (including, I believe, those who made the decision in the first place) wanted to see these services diminish or close. Indeed, most wanted to see more. We already had a shortfall in supported housing and the rapid expansion of urgently-needed extra care villages stopped. Local MPs did not like what they saw happening in their constituencies and made this clear to the Government. They organised debates in Parliament, asked parliamentary questions, lobbied ministers in the corridors and made their concerns clear.

Today, very close to three years later, the Government’s response to the consultation shows it has heard and understood these issues, and has concluded that the present arrangements are the most effective.

There remain legitimate concerns that a small number of unregulated providers of supported housing might not be providing good quality services. That’s why, from the very start of the debate, we stated our commitment to helping achieve increased transparency and oversight of housing costs, ensuring public money is being spent on supported housing schemes we can be proud of. We are happy that this discussion will now happen. Mainly, however, we are thrilled that vital services have been protected and we can get on with the task of expanding and improving the provision.

For me there are three key lessons from all this. First is that, although it can sometimes seem to take a long time, the tried and tested parliamentary process of green paper, white paper then decision, is the right way to make decisions. Or to put it another way, think first, discuss with those who really know, then make a decision. If you do it the other way round – decide first then think – there is a high probability of getting it wrong.

Second, our members have demonstrated the huge potential power of targeted campaigning and relationship building with their local elected representatives. Starts at Home worked. We know that MPs and others are always impressed by the work when they see it up close and personal. In the end it was the case made by the brilliant people who work in supported and sheltered housing and the experience of those who live there that won the argument.

Finally, and most importantly, we have re-established a national understanding that supported and sheltered housing is critical, not just for the people who live there but for the kind of nation we want to be. Helping people who need some support to live fulfilling, independent lives in the community is what civilised nations do. We have now made clear it is what we do.

Starts at Home day on 31 August will now be a celebration of the fantastic contribution supported and sheltered housing makes. Good news indeed.

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