Doubts around ring-fenced funding for supported housing

Housing professionals have stated they are not sure how long the ring-fenced funding for supported housing will last for.

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The housing sector has given strong support for the ring-fence around funding, but raised doubts on how long it would last.

In a member’s consultation by the National Housing Federation, members also raised concerns about local authorities having greater freedoms over funding at a time a huge pressure on all areas of local authority spending.

There was also concern about services for particular groups such as ex-offenders and single homeless people.

Ring-fences for client groups could set up artificial barriers between different services many of which serve multiple needs.

Members also noted that it will be important to understand what the current need is and what it will be in the future.

They stated there was a need for the national and local allocation to have the flexibility to grow, especially in low value LHA areas.

In the long term, the local allocation needs to give lenders the confidence to invest, with members adding they cannot sustain or provide new services without this commitment.

Members revealed housing association boards are already asking questions about the viability of existing schemes and the risk on ongoing involvement in all or parts of the specialist housing sector.

Concerns were also raised around statutory duties, saying any new duty could risk only those included will get funding. Meaning only people at crisis point get funding and could restrict associations’ ability to provide a range of preventative services. They also say the duties may not be able to capture the complexity of what the service offers.

Concerns were raised about level of housing knowledge and strategic housing responsibility at county level.

A national framework, which all stakeholders would be involved in creating, would go some way to providing consistency for providers and service users, members said.

Providers did not want to divert resources into dealing with a series of very different local systems set up to achieve the same objective.

There was suggestion local authorities should pay tenants (or providers) based on actual rents and reasonable service charge costs, hoping to give tenants reassurance about their future.

There was a desire for monitoring to be included to ensure spending reflects nationally set priorities. Members said prevention should be classed as a ‘key priority’.

At a national level monitoring is wanted to ensure government continues to recognise the ongoing value of a ring-fenced, distinct funding stream.

Any national commissioning framework should set out responsibilities to plan and assess needs. It was agreed this new commissioning structure would bring together local partners (health, criminal justice etc) who benefit from the outcomes from supported or sheltered housing.

There was concern however that local authorities will try and drive prices down and be reluctant to pay for more expensive or higher quality services and buildings.

Members added that commissioners need a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between quality and price across the different element of the service and housing.

There was work for housing providers to do too.

They acknowledged they need to better capture how supported housing makes savings to other services and delivers key outcomes for tenants.

They also called for clearer descriptors for supported and sheltered housing so all partners understand the purpose and the relevant costs.

This was coupled with the idea of landlords and commissioners being clear about the distinction between housing and support costs.

Members said that as the transition is made to the new funding arrangement, government should restrict the funding to new claimants.

They also suggested a phasing of the new system, looking to reduce the risk of inadequate local allocations and services closing. This would allow local authorities more time to plan and systems could be piloted.

Setting a different LHA cap for supported and sheltered housing was something favourable for members, reducing the number of tenants affected by the cap and allowing authorities to concentrate attention on higher cost schemes.

The full members responses for the consultation on the future of supported housing can be found here.

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