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Green spells out supported housing changes

The Westminster government has announced a new funding regime for supported housing. Jules Birch blogs on the implications for Wales.

First, the good news: a written statement by UK work and pensions secretary Damian Green confirmed that both the LHA cap and the shared accommodation rate have been scrapped in their current form for supported housing. Refuges, hostels and other very short-term accommodation could still be exempted.

Even better, one of the most worrying features of the announcement for England – confirmation that the 1% a year rent cut will cover supported as well as social housing – does not apply to Wales. Welsh Government did not apply this to social housing so Welsh supported housing can (probably) rest easy.

And Wales also has an advantage over England in the new funding regime that will follow. Introduction of the LHA cap will be deferred until 2019/20. After that, funding will be devolved to Scotland and Wales and to English local authorities to top up payments to providers to reflect the extra costs of providing supported housing over general needs.

For England that could mean re-inventing Supporting People, which was rapidly cut once the ring-fence was removed in 2010. Wales retained its Supporting People programme and should be able to use local arrangements that are already in place.

However, a week after the announcement the DWP confirmed that the cap will apply to all tenants from 2019 (the cap as originally proposed would only have applied to new tenants).

And other concerns remain about the new arrangements.

First, the written statement says that the new funding regime will ensure that ‘the sector continues to be funded at current levels, taking into account the effect of Government policy on social sector rents’.

That form of words sounds like there is no guarantee that funding will increase with inflation and could even fall in line with social rents in England. The Westminster government remains determined to achieve efficiencies in supported housing.

Will Wales get enough money to make up the shortfall and will Welsh Government be able to hold the line on rents?

Second, it remains to be seen how the new system will work in practice. For example, tenants under 35 will be protected from the shared accommodation rate while they are in supported housing. But what happens when they want to move in to social or private rented housing and their housing benefit does not cover their rent?

Third, will providers commit to new projects or make long-term decisions about existing ones until it’s clear how the new system will operate?

More details are expected to emerge when a consultation document and evidence review are published shortly.

Community Housing Cymru says questions still remain about whether the new proposed model gives the certainty that is needed to protect supported housing in the long term.

Paul Langley, head of business development at CHC, said:

‘On the face of it, this is good news. It isn’t a funding cut, it is just a different funding mechanism to deliver the support needed for vulnerable people. However, we now need assurances that the top-up devolved funding 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.’

‘57% of people living in supported housing in Wales will be impacted by this policy and we worked closely with our members to communicate our concerns. Without the exemption, the cap would have jeopardised many tenancies and halted the development of future supported housing schemes in Wales.’

Stuart Ropke, chief executive of CHC, added:

‘Long term funding certainty will ensure existing schemes can remain open and new schemes can progress. We will work closely with Welsh Government on the details of the devolved scheme to get the best outcome for those who require supported housing across Wales.’

– See my blog for Inside Housing for more on this

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