The announcements in the Autumn Statement focused mainly on proposals to help those ‘just about managing’. For those housing providers and local authorities in England, who are trying to support those clearly not managing, the publishing of the consultation on the Future Funding of Supported Housing is much more significant than what the Chancellor had to say.
The consultation starts with a reassuring commitment ‘to protect the most vulnerable’. The document echoes much of what the sectors concerns have been about ensuring the funding model is flexible enough to reflect the diversity of the sector, meets the needs of individual tenants, providers and commissioners and supports development. But it is clearly a starting point for consultation, not a funding solution for comment.
The principles of the scheme are as expected, with little extra detail provided on what has already been announced:
- Core rent and service charges will be funded through Universal Credit (or Housing Benefit for pensioners and where Universal Credit has yet to be fully rolled out) up to the level of the applicable Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate.
- Ringfenced devolved funding to local authorities in England to provide a ‘top-up’ where necessary to providers, reflecting the often higher costs of offering supported housing. The intention would be for the top-up fund to be used in conjunction with, not a replacement for, the wide range of funding dedicated to local commissioning (such as supporting people funding)
- LHA cap delayed for supported housing until the new scheme comes in in April 2019.
- The LHA Shared Accommodation Rate will not apply to people living in the supported housing sector, in recognition of the particular challenges this would have placed upon them.
- The 1% reduction in social housing rents will apply from supported housing from April 2017, but the shared room rate won’t.
Reassuringly the final funding details will be announced in autumn 2017 to allow time for transitional arrangements and any necessary legislation to be made ahead of the new model commencing on 1 April 2019. But providers may have to wait longer for details of what funding will be available locally while Local Authorities put in place their strategies, although the government propose to put shadow arrangements on the detail and allocation of funding in place from April 2018 to allow full transition to a new model.
Alongside the consultation is a 200 page Supported Accommodation Evidence Review, which provides an excellent snapshot of the sector as it stands. It estimates that the annualised Housing Benefit expenditure for supported housing across Great Britain as at December 2015 is £4.12 billion. This represents around 17 percent of the total expenditure on Housing Benefit. While the consultation repeatedly states it is focussed on protecting vulnerable people, there is clearly and an undercurrent focussed on ensuring quality and cost controls. The key questions that this raises are:
- How will housing benefit departments view claims from registered providers with higher enhanced housing management costs? Is it an opportunity for LAs to maximise the funding transferred or will they be instructed to crack down given that the £4bn is already a significant number?
- What will happen post 2019 – will the ring fence go the same way as the supporting people ring fence?
For more information or to discuss any of these issues further, you can contact Jim Lashmar on 07968 616 550 | firstname.lastname@example.org or Gemma Duggan on 07586 325 368 | email@example.com