SAR will destroy hostels and refuges

I’ve posted two blogs in the past week as to how the shared accommodation rate (SAR) could apply to social housing tenants in April 2013 just as it does now to the private rented sector (PRS) tenant.  It’s insidiously permissible through the backdoor through the ‘bedroom tax’ HB reform.  These have attracted almost 2000 views between them in 4/5 days whereas the average post attracts 150-200 in a month!

Yet despite many housing professionals stating it is not DWP’s intention to apply SAR to social housing tenants it still could happen if you read the impact assessment on underoccupation, the bedroom tax as it’s become known.  Hopefully this won’t happen but without DWP confirming this specifically, then perhaps the sector relying upon just the intended consequences and not the unintended ones, is an example of Shapps’ ridiculous ‘lazy consensus’ tag of the sector?

All agree it would be disastrous it SAR does apply to social housing tenants, though yet again is this not a lazy consensus of the social housing sector in ignoring how devastating the SAR is to the PRS tenant?

One area in which this is a worthy comment is when social and private rented meet which they increasingly do in supported housing and especially in homelessness.  Here we see socially run first-stage accommodation, that is homeless hostels, supporting vulnerable residents and then these residents are ‘moved-on’ to their own flat and increasingly that option is fulfilled by the PRS and not social housing.

Yet because the SAR has been extended to include all those hostel residents aged 34 and under from the previous 24 and under so many more single homeless residents will see this impact.  The SAR changes have an exemption for hostel dwellers, but only if they have been there 3 months.  This is a huge problem and means that the SAR HB reform works against the demand for hostel places and against the wishes of SP commissioners who expect more support to more people from the same or reduced funding levels.

Homelessness has increased 14% and rough sleeping 23% – and many say it’s much higher – and so there is increased demand on hostel places.  How this can be achieved, at least in theory, is to reduce the time spent in a hostel as if you bring down the average length of stay you can accommodate more people in any year.  Indeed this is also the plan of SP commissioners who wish to see more support for less funding.  However the SAR policy works directly against both of these issues with the consequence of a double whammy and will see less homeless people being accommodated and more hostel closures.

Here’s why and uses real examples of just 2 support providers we advise.

Client A is a 24 bedded single homeless hostel and in 2011 accommodated 204 vulnerable homeless 18 – 35 year olds.  The 204 figure is what SP commissioners call ‘throughput’ and used as an ‘outcome’ indicator or performance target and they expect a near 15% increase in this number to 230 this year.

Extrapolate the figures and we see that the average length of stay (ALOS) for each hostel resident is 43 days – the number of yearly bed days is 365 x 24 rooms or 8760 yearly bed day which is then divided by number of yearly residents (204) to give 43 days as the ALOS figure. [(365×24) / 204]

The SP commissioning target for 230 yearly residents would see the ALOS figures reduce by 5 days to 38 days support for each resident at the hostel before they are moved on.

However, the SAR only exempts hostel residents at the move-on accommodation if they have spent 90 days in a hostel.  So for this to happen which is necessary the yearly capacity of homeless persons reduces to just 96.  This is a 53% reduction on the previous years number!!

It also means in the bean counters view – and these are the finance bods in councils who are constantly looking over the shoulders of the SP teams and commissioners – that the cost of each hostel residents support increases by 53%!!! Surely this is rank inefficiency they maintain end this woefully inefficient contract they proclaim!!!

The reality is that the SAR changes, even if they just apply to PRS tenants, are a HB reform that works directly against the increase in homelessness demand, directly against the increase in rough sleeping and directly against the No Second Night Out initiative (NSNO) and directly against the demand of the local council SP commissioner to get reduced costs per head.

So even if the SAR won’t be applied to social housing tenants through the backdoor via the bedroom tax in April 2013 it does work directly against every policy in homelessness in any case.  The SAR itself is a huge problem for homelessness provision and while I don’t have figures for the percentage of all single homeless residents that are under 35, I know from experience of working in the field that the vast majority are under 35.

What I do have figures on is the numbers of HB claimants aged 25 – 34 as these are in the DWP monthly releases on HB.  There are 265,000 of them of which 88,000 are in the PRS and almost twice that number in the social rented sector.  So the claimed £214m per year saving this government claim (which wont happen) is the upshot of increasing SAR from under 25s to under 35s would be tripled if it applied to social tenants.  Ask yourself why this government would forego a further £400m per year saving to the HB bill?  No I can’t find any rationale answer to that question either!

It’s not just single homeless hostels that will be affected by the SAR change.  Any supported housing model that is accommodation-based and has ‘move-on’ is affected.

Client B is a DV refuge with last year an average length of stay (ALOS) of 2 months.  Note well I haven’t stated their capacity of their throughput of last year as this would identify them. It now needs to be 3 months so that vulnerable single women with no children fleeing violence do not suffer the SAR cut.  I have private research figures from our DV refuge clients that say some have 30 -35% of their residents being single women with no children aged under 35.

What this means is that this year – and as a direct result of the SAR being extended to cover those 34 and under – the capacity reduces by about 34%.  They will accommodate 34% less women this year as a direct result of the SAR HB reform.  It also means that the SP cost per capita increases by over 50%!!!  Cue the bean counter argument from above!!!  This refuge is woefully inefficient they will claim!!

Womens Aid released in the last few weeks that 230 women fleeing violence are refused access to a refuge on a typical day.  How much will that figure increase as a direct result of the SAR HB reform?

Don’t bother looking at the impact assessment DWP produced for the SAR as this direct impact of the SAR to homelessness and DV is not in there!!

Also in the last few weeks there have been a few blogs from very well respected supported housing professionals calling for performance based SP contracts.  Read again the ‘bean counter’ argument above and the direct impact of SAR to all accommodation based supported housing services to single people under 35. They reveal the numbers being supported will fall and the support cost per capita will increase in all services where the ALOS is currently less than 3 months.

This exposes the bizarre nature of PBR and performance based contracts in SP and exposes them to be a dangerously naive policy and the respected supported housing professionals that who advocate PBR that I have deliberately not named here need to have a major rethink! I said exactly the same when Lorraine Regan at the CLG SP team advocated the same thing last year (see comments).  They are and will always remain a risk too far for support providers.

In summary what the SAR does directly – even if it only applies to the PRS tenant – is increased the demand and need for homeless hostels and DV refuges yet reduce their numbers as the bean counters and commissioners will reduce such services – the double whammy.  DWP means Don’t Work Policies!

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