MPs critical of government proposals for supported housing

Wednesday, 3 May 2017 - 3:37pm

The Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions select committees have published their joint report on supported housing funding

woman holding a cardboard cut out house

We are pleased to see the committees’ report reflecting so many of our members’ concerns about the funding proposals for supported housing and the report echoes many of the recommendations we made in our submission.

Select committees are cross-party groups of backbench MPs that scrutinise the work of Government departments. Alongside written evidence, they also hold oral evidence sessions and can call a range of witnesses to attend, including Government Ministers. The reports can be very influential and the Government has to respond formally to the recommendations made in reports written by select committees.

This joint inquiry ran alongside the Government consultation earlier this year and received nearly 100 pieces of written evidence from a wide range of organisations with an interest in the supported housing sector. You can read Homeless Link’s evidence here.

The report is clear on the value of supported housing and the contribution it makes to both individuals and wider society. It recognises the Government’s stated ambition to develop a sustainable, long-term solution but argues that many of the proposals undermine this ambition. Key points include:

  • Opposition to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate as a basis for a sustainable supported housing sector. The committee highlights the lack of relationship between the LHA rate and the cost of providing supported housing and the impact this will have in terms of geographical variation and reliance on the top-up fund.
  • The committees recommend a Supported Housing Allowance that better reflects the costs of supported housing. The committees propose that this should be banded for different types of provision and that the Government should work with the sector to develop these bandings. Access to any local top-up fund would therefore be the exception, and not the rule.
  • A set of national standards should be established and all providers should be registered with their local authority and subject to annual inspection, even if they are not commissioned locally. To access the Supported Housing Allowance, tenants would need to be living in a supported housing scheme registered for inspection by local authorities. There should also be clearer complaints mechanisms in place.
  • Government should guarantee the ring-fence for the duration of the next Parliament and provide a clear steer for the fund to remain in the long-term. This would give some certainty to residents, providers, commissioners and investors. The level of funding should be reviewed regularly to ensure it matches costs and demand.
  • Given the potential impact of any changes, any new model should be piloted ahead of a phased implementation. Local authorities will also need time and resources to gather the sufficient data to review current and future need in their areas.
  • The committees highlight the different views in the sector around defining short-term accommodation, for example by timeframe or purpose, and they do not take an explicit view. However, they do recommend that for very short-term, emergency accommodation, the Government should consider a system of grants to local authorities so they can commission emergency accommodation in their area and pay providers directly.
  • The report also discusses the interaction with the wider welfare system, including work incentives and how the benefits system can be a barrier to people moving on from supported housing. Recommendations include extending the Shared Accommodation Rate exemption to younger tenants looking to leave supported housing and clear guidance on how 18-21 year olds leaving supported housing will be assessed under existing exemptions.

You can find further details in the full report. The sector had been expecting the previous Government to publish a Green Paper outlining next steps for the proposals and further consultation. This timetable has now been altered by the General Election and it is unclear if or when a new Government will publish anything further on plans for supported housing funding. In light of this, and with much to welcome in the select committees’ report, we call on a new Government to pause to fully reconsider the current proposals and continue to work in collaboration with the sector, so we can develop a sustainable funding model that supports a high quality and diverse supported housing sector.

Although we don’t know how many of these recommendations, if any, will shape any work the next Government, we would welcome members’ feedback on the report, particularly the new set of standards and inspection framework, the short-term accommodation model and a banded Supported Housing Allowance. If you have any comments on these, or any issues raised in the report, please email us at paula.reid@homelesslink.org.uk.

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Paula Reid

Paula Reid

Policy manager

Paula is policy manager at Homeless Link and leads on the Supported Housing Alliance.