The government must step in to resolve conflict between councils and supported housing providers
Caught in the middle
Unfortunately this was an argument waiting to happen. While councils across Britain have seen their budgets slashed, the amount they are spending on supported housing providers has, in many cases, soared. With nowhere else to turn, councils have begun cutting back. The predictable result has been the scaling back of services or, in a growing number of instances, closing them altogether. The only recourse for desperate providers, such as those in Bristol, has been to take councils to rent tribunals. These cases are costly and frequently take months to conclude, all the while those in need of support face an uncertain future.
A potential solution lies in the hands of government and a consultation conducted last year by the Department for Work and Pensions into the future funding of supported housing through the housing benefit system. To its credit, the DWP identified there was a problem and pledged to address it without attempting to cut the overall amount spent on supported housing. It received more than 400 responses to its proposal to seek a clearer definition of what constituted a supported housing service and hence what activities qualified for funding through housing benefit. But since the consultation closed last October there has been nothing, with the DWP saying its plans will be announced ‘in due course’.
Besides allowing numerous potentially avoidable rent rows to continue, the DWP’s silence has two other important implications. First, those providers keen to invest in new or improved supported housing facilities will struggle to convince their lenders that this is the best use of their funds and delay construction. Second, the introduction of the universal credit next October will be further complicated by the lack of clarity over which supported costs will come under the planned £26,000 total benefit cap per household. The DWP has said supported housing will be included in the total cap, but providers and councils hope the individuals requiring more costly intensive support could be partially excluded as the cost of their care could breach the cap. Ultimately vulnerable people are caught in the middle of this mess and that is to no one’s credit.