Parliament debates the future funding of supported housing

Friday, 15 July 2016 - 8:00am

In a recent debate MPs discussed the important role that supported housing plays and called upon the Government to think again about the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap proposals

19 July 2016 UPDATE: click to skip to information on new motion laid by the opposition Labour Party

On the 12th July 2016 in the House of Commons, Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waverley secured a short debate on the issue of supported housing. The full debate can be found in Hansard  

Contributions were made from a number of MPs across all the main political parties and all those who took part emphasised the important role that supported housing plays and many called upon the Government to think again about the LHA cap proposals. The Government response was provided by Marcus Jones, the Minister responsible for homelessness in DCLG.

The following is a summary of the main interventions in the debate.

Peter Aldous

The Conservative MP for Waverley opened the debate by asking for a  “progress report from the Minister” on how the review of supported housing is going. He went on to re-emphasise “the vital importance of putting the funding of supported housing on a sustainable long-term footing. It is absolutely essential that we do this, so as not to let down a very vulnerable group of people, whether they are elderly, young, have a physical disability, have suffered domestic violence or face mental health challenges” He identified that the supported housing sectors are worried about the future and “it is vital that the Government know their concerns and take them fully into account in producing their proposals, which I hope will be available shortly.”

While he recognised the Government had put a pause on the proposals for the 1% rent reduction and applying the LHA caps to residents in supported housing he stressed that 2017 is not far away. He went on to say, “It is important to have new policies in place well before then, so as not only to remove worries about the viability of existing schemes but to act as a catalyst for attracting much needed new investment in the sector.”

Peter Aldous identified the representation he had received from supported housing organisations who all raised concerns about the sector’s future. “ As well as the National Housing Federation, these include the Home Group, Homeless Link, the Local Government Association, Suffolk County Council, the Salvation Army, Papworth Trust and Give us a Chance, which, as well as providing accommodation, helps young people into work and sustainable employment.

After making very strong arguments in defence of supported housing, he concluded his speech by asking the Minister a number of questions:

“How is the evidence review going? When will the results be available? Are the wide range of interested parties in the sector being consulted? What is the impact of the roll out of universal credit? Will he give early confirmation tonight that the threat of the crude local housing allowance cap will be removed after next April? In putting in place the new framework for the future funding of supported housing I urge the Government to be sympathetic and visionary and to think strategically. It is important for the futures of so many vulnerable people that the Government pursue such a course”

Marcus Jones

Replying for the Government, Marcus Jones, the Homelessness Minister identified the Government’s commitment to supported housing:

“Supported housing plays a crucial role in supporting hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in the country. A safe, stable and supportive place to live can be the key to unlocking better outcomes for individuals. For many, it is a stepping-stone to independent living in the longer term, as several colleagues mentioned. One of this Government’s key commitments is to protect the most vulnerable. The provision of supported housing underpins that commitment and helps Departments across Whitehall fulfil their objectives in supporting those most in need and delivering on this promise.”

He went on to say, “the sector supports people across the country, from those with mental health conditions to rough sleepers, people who are homeless, ex-offenders and those escaping domestic violence. It ensures that vulnerable elderly people can maintain their independence for as long as possible and live in safety and security, that those with learning difficulties can live as independently as possible, and that care leavers can safely make the transition to self-reliance. The importance of supported housing cannot be overestimated. Supported housing helps people meet the demands of daily life, it helps people get their lives in order, it improves and supports their health and well-being, and it provides a place of safety and stability where people can achieve independence and reach their full potential

He then described the principles behind a model for the long-tern future funding of supported housing

“It must protect the public finances—for the taxpayer, as well as for central and local government. It must also build in a rigorous approach to value for money. At the same time, to protect vulnerable and older people, now and in the future, it must be funded in a way that recognises the increased cost of supporting people in the community, as colleagues on both sides of the Chamber have mentioned. I also want to ensure that a future funding model provides enough certainty to allow the development of new supported housing units. In particular, an ageing population demands that services and supply keep pace with our social care needs.”

He stated that the Government recognised the difference in costs between general needs and supported housing.

“The Government recognise the higher costs associated with providing supported housing for vulnerable groups, over and above the costs of general-needs housing. That is why it is crucial… that we work across Government and alongside the sector and other partners to find a workable and sustainable solution.”

His conclusion promised a long-term solution but he did not indicate when the Review on Supported Housing would be published:

“It is clear that supported housing is an investment that brings significant savings to other parts of the public sector, particularly the NHS. At the same time, any loss of provision risks significant disruption to service users, as well as expensive cost-shunting. That is, why earlier this year, we listened carefully to the sector and put in place the one-year exemption. That short-term exemption was welcomed by the sector, but we recognise that it is only a temporary fix, which is why we are looking at a longer-term solution. That solution must work for all parts of the sector. We must make sure that we recognise the diversity in the sector, and we will continue to do that.

I will certainly take into account the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and colleagues across the Chamber, have made. We look forward to bringing forward a solution to this important issue as soon as is practical”.

Next steps

Homeless Link is still waiting for details of when the Review on Supported Housing and plans for future funding will come out of central Government. We are aware of a recent article in the housing press on the issue which some people have interpreted as suggesting the issue is largely resolved. However, as far as we know, nothing official has yet been announced by Government including no date for publication of the Review.

The information that we have is that the Review would be published before the Summer Recess of 21st July 2016. However, current events mean that the political focus is to some degree elsewhere but we feel it is vital that the Government makes an announcement, especially on the LHA Caps before Parliament goes into recess.

The full debate can be found in Hansard

Update 19 July 2016

The House of Commons will be debating LHA Caps and their impact on supported housing again on the afternoon of the 20/7/16. This debate will be the last time MPs can look at the issue with the Summer Recess following the day after.

The opposition Labour Party have laid a motion saying:

"That this House notes that the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people in specialist housing, including elderly people and people who are homeless, disabled or fleeing domestic violence; believes that this will have harmful effects on current and future tenants of these specialist housing schemes; further notes that there is already a significant shortfall in this type of housing provision across the country; notes that charities, housing associations, councils and others have made Government Ministers aware of the damaging impact these cuts will have on tenants and the financial viability of these schemes and that the Government’s proposal to mitigate these cuts with discretionary housing payments will not compensate for these cuts; notes that the Government’s own evidence review into the impact of its decision, commissioned in December 2015 has yet to be published; notes that the Government has postponed the implementation of these cuts for new tenants to April 2017 but plans to fully roll out its planned cuts to housing benefit in April 2018; and therefore calls on the Government to exempt supported housing from its planned housing benefit cuts and to consult fully with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it."

We'll publish any key points coming out of Wednesday's debate on Thursday. We will also keep you updated on any information coming from Government this week on the issue.