We can’t afford to be complacent

I was pleased by the number of positive housing announcements at last week’s Conservative Party Conference, including the £2bn additional funding for social homes, post-2020 rent settlement and promise of advanced payments for ‘some’ Universal Credit claimants.

may speech

Yet there is still one critical area of policy that we need clarity on and quickly – the future funding for supported housing.

At a time when we have seen an unprecedented increase in homelessness, mental illness on the rise, and huge pressures on the social care system, Government is in danger of sleepwalking into a crisis of immense proportions.

We cannot afford to be complacent, as there is simply too much at stake. Even the joint DWP and DCLG Select Committee added its voice to the chorus of critics, rendering the use of the LHA rate in supported housing as wholly ‘inappropriate’.

Instead it argued for a new Supported Housing Allowance, banded to reflect the actual cost of provision.

The findings of a recent NHF survey of around 70 supported housing providers are a vivid reminder of the real impact of the prolonged uncertainty over an adequate funding model.

Almost 40% have postponed new developments, with one in ten abandoning planned developments altogether.

The overall decrease in planned new supported housing units following last year’s consultation proposals amounts to 85%, (from 8,800 to 1,350).

Bearing in mind that those surveyed deliver one-third of supported and sheltered housing in England, the numbers are bound to underplay the true scale of what is going on.

Like so many housing associations, Orbit has also put plans for new schemes on hold until the funding issue has been resolved satisfactorily.

On current assumptions, around £2.5m of Orbit’s income per annum is ‘at risk’, with an average shortfall per customer of £1,400.

What we need to see is a long-term commitment to cover the actual costs of providing supported housing.

This must include a reversal of the proposed LHA cap and a cast-iron guarantee that any top-up funding is ring-fenced.

Not only does the proposed cap choke off supply, it also threatens the survival of existing schemes. Since the cap will not only apply to new, but also to existing claimants, thousands of people will be worrying how to find the extra money so they can stay where they are.

The fallout from this is likely to be substantial.

My hope is that the forthcoming green paper on supported housing will take a fresh look at these issues and provide the sector with much needed certainty.

In the meantime I urge MPs from across the aisle to attend and take part in the Westminster Hall debate secured by Peter Aldous MP and the NHF, which will take place today.

Mr Aldous has long been an ardent and passionate champion of supported housing and we were pleased to welcome him to visit a number of Orbit schemes in his Waveney constituency last year.

I would hope many more MPs would follow suit to see first-hand the difference supported housing makes to the lives of vulnerable people up and down the country.

Supported housing must be fully funded and sustainable.

Reverse the cap and ensure this country really is one which works for everyone.