Domestic violence charity moves to protect itself from changes to benefit
Charity Refuge becomes social landlord
A domestic violence charity has registered as a social housing provider in a bid to protect its annual rental income from benefit rule changes.
Refuge, which operates 42 refuges for victims of domestic violence in the UK, had an application to become a registered provider approved by regulator the Homes and Communities Agency this month.
The move is in response to proposed changes to housing benefit for supported housing.
In a consultation published last year, the government proposed to restrict benefit for supported housing in line with local housing allowance rates, which are used to calculate housing benefit payments for private renters, plus a ‘top-up’.
The Department for Work and Pensions has not finalised details of how this top-up would be calculated, leading to fears it might not be enough to cover the costs of providing supported accommodation.
However, registered housing providers should continue to receive enough benefit to cover rent.
Refuge’s accounts show that in 2011 it received £3.7 million of income through housing benefit and rents.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said without the move to register, she feared providing front line services for women and children would be ‘unsustainable’. She said: ‘Refuge is concerned that the top-up payment would not be sufficient to allow us to cover our existing rents.’
Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing warned against assuming registration will automatically protect rental income. He said although registered provider rents will not automatically be referred to a rent officer, they could be. If they are referred, they will be assessed against a national, rather than local benchmark, which could see a reduction. He added: ‘[Registering] might not make much of a difference.’
The DWP said it will publish regulations governing housing benefit for supported housing ‘in due course’.