THE social security system will continue to pay the rent for vulnerable people living in supported housing, the Government has announced.
The decision to retain housing benefit rather than shift to short-term discretionary council grants follows a consultation on alternate funding proposals and it has been welcomed by industry chiefs.
“We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable people have access to the supported housing they need to live safely and independently,” said Justin Tomlinson, minister for family support, housing and child maintenance at the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP).
“We value the expertise of stakeholders and have listened carefully to their concerns during the consultation.
“As a result, we will continue to pay housing benefit for all supported housing –making sure safe homes are provided for those that need it most.”
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF) called it a “hugely welcome” decision.
“[It] shows that the Government has listened to the concerns of housing associations and the people who use these vital homes and services,” he added. “After years of uncertainty, we are delighted that housing costs will remain in the social security system for all supported housing, sheltered and extra care.
“The sector has worked together to demonstrate the value of supported housing, ensuring the Government understood the need to protect these homes and services and put a funding model in place that would encourage future development.
“This announcement means that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are vulnerable, will continue to receive the support they need by right, through the social security system. It gives them the certainty and security they need and deserve.”
Melanie Rees, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) also welcomed the decision. “Along with many other housing organisations we have been calling on the Government to rethink its plans for funding short-term supported housing so it’s great to see they have made the right decision,” she said.
“This type of housing provides vital support for some of the most vulnerable people in our society – people who have been victims of homelessness or domestic abuse for example – and it is absolutely right that it will continue to be funded by the welfare system. Without that certainty there was a real risk that refuges and other supported housing schemes would have been forced to close.”
Supported housing provides a home to some of the most vulnerable people across country, including those facing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence, offering them a secure place to stay.
It also provides a life-long home for those with learning and physical disabilities, mental ill-health and older people, providing independence. But, as Rees inferred, there were fears that Government proposals for alternative means of funding could leave many at risk of homelessness.
Last year the Government published proposals on new ways of funding supported housing. These models included grant funding for short-term provision, such as hostels and refuges, and a ‘Sheltered Rent’ for sheltered and extra care housing.
Under the grant model, councils would have received funding and paid short-term supported housing rents at their discretion.
“Protection of the most vulnerable has always been our primary concern, and following our consultation, the case for keeping supported housing in the welfare system became clear,” said housing minister Kit Malthouse MP.
“The sector also recognised that our aim of improving the quality of homes must be addressed, and we look forward to now working with partners to make sure we have strong measures in place.”
Alongside the decision to retain housing benefit, the Minstry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) has also announced that it will work with providers, local authorities, membership bodies and resident representatives over the coming months to develop a “robust oversight regime”.
This work is intended to ensure quality and value for money across the whole supported housing sector. In addition, the ministry said a review of housing related support will be undertaken to better understand how housing and support currently fit together.
“This announcement will give councils and housing providers the certainty to sustain and invest in supported housing for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community well-being board.
“A sustainable funding model for supported housing is critical to ensuring councils can reduce homelessness and help older and other vulnerable people.
“It is, however, crucial that councils have the leading role in overseeing and ensuring the provision of housing for vulnerable groups is good quality, value for money, and fits in with the wider local services offered in places.
“We look forward to working with the Government and our housing and care partners to ensure that the future of supported housing best achieves our ambitions for communities.”