What is ‘Sheltered Accommodation’ with regards to Housing Benefit eligibility?
This is the core of a very important current argument and one that will have significant consequences for the sustainability of accommodation-based ‘supported housing’ and the many vulnerable and disabled people residing there if the DWP gets its way. The DWP’s way here is contrary to the legal opinion as detailed in an Upper Tribunal case from 2011.
The issue concerns HB payments for communal areas and whether they are eligible or not. If they are not then many services that accommodate vulnerable people will see a reduction in HB funding and this shortfall will need to be met by the vulnerable people directly. The argument hinges on the legal definition of the term ‘sheltered accommodation’ which is contained in the HB regulations.
Note from the outset regulations doesn’t say sheltered housing, a term with which all are familiar, rather the regulations say sheltered accommodation, a very unusual term that is not in common parlance.
The terminology is much more than semantics and ‘supported housing’ (SuH) has a different meaning to ‘sheltered housing’ (SH) as does the ‘group home’ or ‘supported living model‘(GH/SLM) which are all forms of Sheltered Accommodation’ or (SA).
Briefly I have put these ‘semantic’ variants in a table below which may help before I look at the issue at hand with a view to help understand what is a complex and muddling problem
|Supported Housing (SuH)||Hostels, refuges, group homes, supported living model, sheltered housing||SuH is a generic terms for all the housing with support models delivered to vulnerable people|
|Sheltered Housing (SH)||Accommodation for older persons in a variety of forms or categories||Cat 1 is non-resident warden
Cat 2 is a resident warden
Cat 2.5 now called ‘extra care’
|Group Home / Supported Living Model (GH/SLM)||Typically smaller shared housing used for ALD, MH and vulnerable persons with disability||Supported Living Model of care that has become very popular and replaced the disempowering, institutionalised and costly registered cared model|
|Sheltered Accommodation (SA)||Upper Tribunal view says all of the above (excepting ‘hostels’ which has its own HB meaning) are forms of SA or more correctly what the HB regulations say was meant by the term SA||
The issue at hand is that the Upper Tribunal decided that a group home (GH/SLM above) was sheltered accommodation (SA) and therefore HB should pay the costs of communal heating and cleaning. The DWP now wishes to legislate to equate sheltered accommodation (SA) ONLY with sheltered housing (SH) and therefore make communal heating and cleaning costs ineligible in GH/SLM.
What the Judge said is this: –
“35. There are some types of accommodation that are clearly not “sheltered accommodation” – such as (and these are only examples) (a) accommodation of the type that most people probably occupy which is not designed for any kind of vulnerable person or where there is absolutely no special provision, (b) residential or nursing care homes, (c) standard student accommodation and (d) other types dealt with by other provisions of the housing benefit scheme. However, unless accommodation is excluded by virtue of being in one of those categories, a broad view should be taken of the meaning of “sheltered accommodation” for these purposes and, in my opinion, it certainly includes the type of accommodation occupied by the claimant”
So in the above the judge says that sheltered accommodation is NOT:-
(a) general needs housing
(b) residential care (excluded from HB anyway)
(c) student accommodation (also mostly excluded)
(d) hostels – hostel is a very specifically defined term in HB regulations
However the judge is saying the group homes and the supported living model IS sheltered accommodation within the meaning of the regulations, and because of that communal heating and cleaning charges are HB eligible. Whereas, the DWP has issued circular G1-2012 to say they are not and the DWP is calling for providers of supported housing to inform them by 8th February 2012 of the impact of the propose change DWP wishes – simply to make such charges ineligible.
Chris Smith the foremost leading expert on HB matters has summarised the issues in his usual concise way here. As always this is an essential read and always objective. Yet by being objective it doesn’t state the political, social and technological issues just the economic ones from a PEST analysis and these are significant.
For example the recent DWP paper on HB in exempt and supported accommodation highlighted and even advocated the rise of the personalisation agenda. Housing costs are higher in specialist housing provision for those with disabilities (GH/SLM) than for conventional housing (hostel, refuge and sheltered), yet now the DWP wants to reduce HB eligibility for specialist housing that it says costs more!! That is a huge contradiction.
The Personalisation Agenda is ‘sexy’ politics and lauded by this government and seeks to increase choice it claims – always a politically strong Tory choice. Yet the perversity here is the DWP wants to increase only the personal cost of vulnerable and often disabled people by limiting their access to what is eligible in HB. That is a huge contradiction and after the disability lobbies huge outcry last week in the Welfare Reform Bill will (rightly) attract further condemnation.
Let me say in no uncertain terms this is an attack on disabled persons and a further cut being attempted to disabled persons housing benefit entitlement. Yet it is a very sneaky one that DWP hoped would come in under the disability radar with in effect a consultation of just 9 working days!!!
The HB case in point concerned a vulnerable man with learning disabilities living in a shared house with 4 others. The local council refused to pay £19.50pw in these communal costs and at the Upper Tribunal were joined in this by the Secretary of State for the DWP. This £1000 per year reduction in HB means the vulnerable disabled man will have to pay an extra £1000 per year. The DWP has appealed but even ahead of that appeal, which I agree with Chris Smith the DWP believe they will lose, are legislating to get their own way and increase the HB bill for this disabled man by £1000 per year.
I summarise this by using the Judge’s words as above and the last sentence of section 35:-
“However, unless accommodation is excluded by virtue of being in one of those categories, a broad view should be taken of the meaning of “sheltered accommodation” for these purposes and, in my opinion, it certainly includes the type of accommodation occupied by the claimant”
The Judges view is that the disabled man is entitled to have HB pay this £1000 per year and that is what the law says. The DWP are seeking yet another tax on disabled and vulnerable people and that needs to be stopped.