Supported housing plays a vital role in providing secure, supported accommodation to thousands of vulnerable people experiencing homelessness or others such as victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities or mental illness, young adults leaving care and ex-armed forces personnel.
In October, the Government launched a consultation proposing to remove short-term supported housing from the welfare system and instead fund this through ring-fenced local authority grants. I am concerned about these proposals, and share the fears of many sector organisations that the Government is effectively pulling the plug on secure funding and jeopardising the future of short-term and emergency accommodation.
Charities and housing providers have warned that giving councils the full responsibility for future funding could result in a postcode lottery and create significant uncertainty, undermining the long-term financial security of the sector. Homeless Link, the national membership charity for homeless organisations, said the government’s proposals have ‘serious implications’ for the future security and sustainability of funding for these vital services. Rethink Mental Illness has warned that new funding levels will make mental health supported housing more insecure and result in fewer new supported housing services and more scale-backs or closures of current supported housing.
Responding in the debate on the future of supported housing on 18 January 2018, the government was unable to give its assurances on the long-term funding of short-term supported accommodation, despite its proposals to ring-fence local authority grants. Short term stays in mental health supported housing are vital in helping tenants transition to living independently in their community.
The government should adopt a system which safeguards the long-term future of supported housing and builds on the recommendations of the Joint Report of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Select Committees. Amongst their recommendations, backed by many in the sector, is a new ‘supported housing allowance.’ This would be set at a higher rate than the local housing allowance, and better reflect the costs of running supported housing.
I am pleased that the government has now dropped its plans for a local housing allowance cap. Housing benefit cuts that were due to take effect in April 2019 would have risked closing thousands of supported housing schemes. Ministers should now explain the £500 million a year in cuts that are still recorded in Treasury spending plans from April 2020.
I will continue to follow this issue carefully.