A respite for supported housing schemes?

Stuart Ropke calls for assurances that existing schemes for people in supported housing can be maintained following an announcement from the DWP.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Autumn Statement that housing benefit and housing costs within Universal Credit for social housing tenants will be capped at the relevant Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. The change applied to any new or renewed tenancy signed from April 2016, but tenants would not see a reduction in their housing benefit until April 2018. Supported Housing later received an extended exemption for one year.

Yesterday Damian Green MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced that the Department of Work and Pensions will be deferring the application of this policy for supported housing until 2019/20. At this point the DWP will bring in a new funding model which will ensure that the sector continues to be funded at current levels, taking into account the effect of UK Government policy on social sector rents. For costs above the level of the LHA rate they will be devolved in Wales and it will be for Welsh Government to decide how best to allocate the funding.

It is the intention that from 2019/20 core rent and service charges will be funded through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit up to the level of the applicable LHA rate. This will apply to all those living in supported accommodation from this date. It is also confirmed that the Shared Accommodation Rate will not apply to people living in the supported housing sector and that the one bedroom rate will be the lowest possible benefit paid. No commitment was made to move-on accommodation.

The DWP intend to ring-fence the top-up fund in England to ensure it continues to support vulnerable people, however they do not have the same powers to ensure Welsh Government do likewise.  The top-up funding will be set on the basis of current projections of future need and discussions will follow between HM Treasury, DWP and Welsh Government how that fund will continue to meet on-going and future demand.

What we need are assurances that the top-up fund will be sufficient, provide flexibility in the long-term and that protections are in place to ensure that the money reaches the right people in Wales.  This certainty will ensure existing schemes can remain open and new schemes can progress.

Further challenges may remain for very short term accommodation, including hostels and refuges and the DWP will offer further options to ensure that providers of shorter term accommodation continue to receive appropriate funding for their important work. Whilst the mechanism may be different, funding for this type of accommodation will benefit from the same protection as supported housing. There are no further details to indicate the definition of these providers or whether they will be paid through the same funding mechanism.

A consultation process will follow shortly where the DWP will seek views on: quality, individual outcomes, the new funding model and a regulatory reform that is effective and proportionate for supported housing.

During the past 10 months CHC, Cymorth Cymru and its members have worked hard to evidence to the UK and Welsh Governments the impact of the LHA policy, this announcement is recognition that they have listened to the sector and recognise the vital role supported housing plays in transforming lives.

The DWP have announced that there will now be a consultation process around the additional funding delivery model.  Their full statement can be viewed here.

Stuart Ropke is Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru.

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