The Supported Housing Alliance (SHA) is Homeless Link’s dedicated policy programme supporting those of our members providing supported accommodation services.
What should enhanced oversight for supported housing look like?
In August 2018, the Government announced its long-awaited response to the consultation on the future funding of supported housing. In it they agreed to retain funding (for rental costs) for supported housing within the benefit system. Ministers stressed that oversight and quality must be delivered by the supported housing sector and tasked Government officials with working with providers, local authorities, membership bodies and resident representatives to put together a sound and robust oversight regime.
We have been engaging with the wider sector, members and officials at workshops, meetings and events and through one-on-one conversations as this work progresses. Officials attended our recent National Advisory Council and Policy Forum meetings to seek insights from our members. These engagements have informed our views so far and we are interested to hear your views as this work progresses.
The overwhelming majority of supported housing providers deliver high quality services and help many vulnerable people to live as independently as possible and achieve positive outcomes. The supported housing sector itself is very diverse with different operating models and client groups, and providers are often already subject to various oversight mechanisms.
We do recognise that there are some gaps in oversight and in the ability and resources available for local authorities to respond where there may be concerns about quality. Concerns about value for money are driven primarily by a lack of clarity about the overall costs of supported housing and limited information and data on the supported housing sector.
Homeless Link’s expectations for any changes
Homeless Link’s initial expectations for any proposed changes to oversight include that they:
- Are easy to understand with clear national guidance and consistently applied
- Leverage off existing mechanisms already in place and do not create additional burden on providers and risk high quality providers exiting the market
- Encourage the sector to use its expertise to implement good practice, innovate and develop to meet future demand
- Are carefully phased in and provide time for providers to meet quality and value for money standards and do not risk taking much needed supply out of the market
- Are developed in partnership with residents and are responsive to the diversity and complexity of people’s individual needs and aspirations
- Include adequate levels of funding and resources, for example, in resourcing local authorities to implement changes.
As a start, one national framework setting out the expectations of the sector and local authorities, including that local authorities develop local supported housing strategies, would be welcome. This could build upon the draft National Statement of Expectation. Local strategies would need to contain an assessment of future demand so that funding and provision of supported housing is there for those who need it. These strategies will also need to align with local homelessness and rough sleeping strategies.
We often hear from our members of differing treatment by Housing Benefit teams. Homeless Link is calling for greater consistency in Housing Benefit decisions across the country. As a first step, the Government should review and update existing Housing Benefit guidance, drawing on best practice, alongside adequately funding local authorities to enforce existing regulation. Guidance should be clear and easy to understand for providers and tenants and be consistency applied. Further changes to increase oversight may require amendments to regulation or legislation. These will need thorough consideration and consultation with the sector and would likely be on a longer timeframe.
We believe there is a strong rationale for looking at the funding streams for supported housing together, both rental costs (Housing Benefit) and support costs. Reductions in one funding stream puts pressure on other funding streams, as we have seen following the substantial reductions in housing-related support. In order to create a truly sustainable supported housing sector, funding for both housing and support costs should be adequately assessed, with clear plans for how funding will grow to meet future need.
Wider issues and next steps
Alongside enhanced oversight, the Government is working to gain a better understanding of the impacts of reductions in housing related support funding. Homeless Link believes that this work will highlight the desperate need for adequate funding for the support element of supported housing.
We know that the significant funding cuts to housing related support, along with cuts to wider support and problems with Universal Credit, are having a major impact on providers. We want to hear directly from you about your experiences on the ground, including your views on increasing the oversight and quality of supported housing. Your case studies and examples will help us to build a comprehensive picture of the challenges the sector is facing and the issues we need to raise with the Government. We are also always on the lookout for case studies that showcase the brilliant work you do every day.
If you have any feedback or thoughts on this work, please contact Michaela.Desforges@homelesslink.org.uk by 4 March 2019.
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