Supported housing- the return of the slum landlord?
04/11/2009 12:41 pm
I’ve been in the supported housing field for over 25 years now and I’ve never been more concerned about its future. In view of the bizarre reporting in Inside Housing in the last few weeks I’d like to post the following:
Alongside legitimate private landlords there have always been those who preyed on vulnerable tenants- those who were unable to defend themselves or those who were unable, because of discrimination, to find housing elsewhere. Names like Rachmann are still well known today and remind us of how bad things were.
The growth of the voluntary sector housing movement was designed to drive those bad landlords out of business by providing good quality housing as an alternative. The growth of supported housing since 1980 has particularly focussed on housing those who are not able to live independently. Supported housing is now highly regulated in an attempt to ensure that standards are kept up and value for money is obtained.
But a new phenomenon has emerged. It works like this: An individual landlord or private company owning property sets up a voluntary organisation. The voluntary organisation is not allowed to make a profit. But it is closely controlled by the private landlord or company. The voluntary organisation pays a very high rent to the owner who makes a good profit. In order to ensure that housing benefit is forced to pay out on a high rent people who need support are housed and provided with support by the voluntary organisation. Often there is no apparent source of funding for this support and sometimes it is actually funded by “donations” from the landlord- possibly funded out of the rent. There is usually no effective outside control over the standard of accommodation or the support provided. Sometimes there is paper security of tenure, making it harder to restrict benefit, but no actual security because the voluntary organisation granting the tenancy has no security itself.
How common is this phenomenon?
No central records appear to be being kept. But at a recent tribunal I attended on behalf of an established charity housing single homeless people, in a major city, about half the comparable accommodation cited by the council was of this type.
The head of housing benefit in York told me that it felt like every week he was faced with claims from a new voluntary supported housing organisation.
At this rate private/voluntary supported housing provision will soon outstrip the traditional voluntary sector.
Is it a good or bad thing?
Some private landlords work very hard at providing good quality support. Those running adult fostering schemes for example, have been unlikely to get into the field to make a mint. It would be hard to say that these landlords should not arrange things to make at least as much money as a voluntary sector project doing the same job. And few would say that avoiding the complexities and paperwork of the supporting people regime was a crime.
But the lack of regula
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04/11/2009 2:05 pm
Can we please have this comment in full please?
This is a very important issue that needs discussion
18/11/2009 12:11 pm
Two caveats here. The first is that the case in York I have no knowledge of whatsoever or can find any. The second is that in general terms of principle I agree with Chris Smith re contrivance to seemingly take advantage.
However, the case he is clearly referring to I have read and studied the decision of Turnbull and I fully agree with Turnbull when he says this case is NOT contrivance. In fact I would go much further than Turnbull does.
What the case in question demonstrates is (a) the appalling ignorance of HB departments of what supportedd housing is, and (b) that prejudicial attitudes of HB departments such as public good, private bad still pervade.
The HB dept in this case said that someone leaving NASS accommodation doesnt need support. Absolute piffle. The same HB dept said that another person who doesnt speak English well, needs translations services and has alcohol issues doesnt need suppoin their view.
TRhe council also tried to argue that essentially it is ok for a HA or charity to claim HB eligible payments but not acceptable for a private company setting up the exct same arrangement with a voiluntray organisation to do the same. That is myopic prejudice of the worst kind and simply because "Rachmann's" name still pervades their thinking.
Before I continue, I have seen far worse council and RSL supported accommodation for provision than private sector provision in the - literally - hundreds of homeless hostels I have seen.
I would also take issue with another of the councils points in this case and the general point Chris raises. They both say it is wrong for accommodation only to be available if you receive siupport, and if you dont accept that support you leave - both being conditions of the tenure.
This is exactly the case in refuges and hostels all over the country and rightly so. The cast majority of these are run by councils or RSLs or charirties and no-one bats an eyelid. Yet when a private company seeks to do this howls of derision come out! Why? The only difference is that its a private organisation and that is outrageous discrimination.
In this case specifically, the accommodation in question is a licensed HMO. Or in simple terms the council has inspected these buildings and found they comply with regulations and of an acceptable standard (and they also charge the landlord for this as well.) So we can take awy in this case the emotive prejudicial link this may have with 'slum' landlord.
But to stay with standards of accommodation, I know this council and it was said of its own homeless accommodation a few years back that "I wouldnt place my worst enemies dog in there" - by other professionals working in that area.
However, to turn to more general matters, I am constantly amazed and angered by the acute lack of knowledge of supported housing amongst HB departments. And rather than excuse them on the basis that only about 2-3% of claims relate to supported rathe than general needs and only about 2-3% or HB regs apply to supportd housing (hence they are trained on the 97% of claims that are general needs housing), they show no common sense whatsoever.
Take the case of someone leaving NASS (asylum seeker) accommodation. They dont have any possessions whatsoever as NASS supplies them with furniture etc right down to cutlery. What is the difference between them and a woman fle