What the LHA maxima policy really means

Imagine your Mum or Dad is getting a bit frail, a bit forgetful, perhaps now living alone in the family home and maybe you recognise the initial onset of multi infarct dementia as I did with my Mum 20 years or so ago.

I was lucky as working in supported housing and at the time line managing 4 regional sheltered housing managers too, I knew the signs to look for.  I was also lucky in that low level sheltered housing was available and Mum moved in after much consideration, and loved it.

She was quite anxious about it and perceived sheltered housing to be ‘old folk’ sitting around in wheelchairs with commodes and dribbling from the mouth and similar imagery, which it is not,  yet a fairly commonly held view of it being a dreaded ‘home’ as in your not putting me in a (care) home.

I showed her round a few to dispel that myth and the low level non resident warden (category 1) scheme she moved into was two tower blocks adjacent to one another and had a community centre attached; more function than form and aesthetically ugly as hell yet safe and secure.

Mum began to sing again for ‘the pensioners’ as she had done for man years previously that I had often witnessed during school holidays and ran around with her boundless energy that she had always had.  She looked younger, made dozens of new friends and had a whole new lease of life and a better quality of life than if she had stayed rambling round in the family home.

Then about 10 years ago the multi infarct dementia really began and what Mum needed was the then very new extra care provision -sheltered housing with added care services – but none was available and I was on the phone to every social landlord asking if any was in the pipeline as you’d expect.  However, the concept of extra care was still relatively new and little provision was around and so I had to take the decision to put Mum in a care home.

I told and persuaded Mum more correctly, the decision was all my brothers and sisters, and after a great deal of deliberation and anger and tears as you can imagine, but as my other sister said I will have to do it as I was the blue-eyed boy, the spoilt youngest child and still Mum’s baby…

Putting your Mum in a care home is every Mum’s nightmare but there was no choice as there was no extra care sheltered housing available which was the only other option and the preferred one.

On the day she went in I can still see the look on my other sister’s face in the car park and remember her saying to me “You’ll have to take Mum in, I just can’t do it” while she was fighting back her emotions and tears so Mum wouldn’t see.

Mum died a couple of years after and while the care home staff were fabulous, it was a care home with all the loss of independence that brings.  Mum went into a shell, she wasn’t Mum: She was not the fiercely independent woman any longer and some other residents there were in commode wheelchairs and were dribbling from the mouth, constant reminders in Mum’s mind of what she would become…

Mum, in part, and understandably so, stopped fighting and gave in to the bastard of all bastards which is dementia and all that goes with it.

IF there had been extra care provision, which still maintains a fair level of independence and much more dignity than a residential care home, Mum would have lived longer.

Even if that had only been 6 months longer, there would have been at least one day when she would have been lucid and when she was Mum and not the pale imitation of a wonderful Mother, woman and human being she had become.

Oh to have one more day…

Mum stopped talking altogether rather than say the wrong thing, pride kicked in and the look in her eyes was one of I am a burden to you even being here and one of stupid shame and of she had let us down … Mum was a typical Mother …

……………

Over the past decade Extra Care has been increasing significantly in terms of provision to give that just one more day (and more) to many adults whose Mum or Dad is deteriorating.  Yet this government will kill extra care off altogether with their LHA maxima policy and it will also reduce that low-level sheltered housing Mum first went into.  We also have the demographic ‘time-bomb’ as it used to be known of an increasing number of older persons. and need much more of it.

Yet there will be nowhere for your Mum or Dad to go soon except into the dreaded home that is all parents worst nightmare and fear as it becomes financially non viable to operate.

I make no apologies for the emotive and personal narrative above as that is the reality of what this government is doing with the LHA maxima policy.

Factual data as to why all the above is true

  • The government policy is that a 1 bed sheltered housing property cannot receive any more in housing benefit than a private tenant receives for a non-sheltered general needs property.
  • The housing benefit a private tenant receives is called the Local Housing Allowance or LHA and is a fixed maximum figure in each local area.
  • So the maximum housing benefit a sheltered tenant can receive is the 1 bed LHA rate, hence the policy being correctly called the LHA maxima.
  • George Osborne announced the policy out of the blue in the Autumn Statement in late November 2015 and announced it with no consultation, no impact assessment and not as part of any legislative Bill.  Government will introduce it by statutory instrument and with no scrutiny, which they can.
  • The policy affects new tenants from April 2016 and is only applied from April 2018

The 1 bed LHA rate in Greater Liverpool, a low rent area which includes most of Merseyside, is £90.90 per week, hence that is all the sheltered tenant there can receive from 2018.

A typical 1 bed sheltered housing property receives £140 per week in housing benefit which is £50 per week more than the maximum housing benefit.  This means the sheltered housing tenant will have to find £50 per week from state pension or savings in order to make the rent.

This ONLY applies to NEW tenants from April 2016 and not to current or existing tenants … HOWEVER …

A recent 165-page report into older persons housing in Sefton, one of the 5 Merseyside councils found that sheltered housing has a 16% per year turnover – 16 new tenants per year for every 100 sheltered properties in simple terms.

Thus, in April 2018 when the housing benefit cut of £50 per week begins it will affect 32% of all sheltered tenants.  This is the 16% new tenants from 2016/17 and the 16% of new tenants from 2017/8. (It will also affect 16% more in 2018/19 making 48% by financial year end but let’s leave that aside for argument sake.)**

For every 100 sheltered properties this will mean 32 lots of £50 cuts per week which is a cut of £1,600 per week and over a year that is £78,000 less in housing benefit that the landlord will receive if all new tenants are on housing benefit or, a £58,500 funding cut to the social landlord if 75% of sheltered tenants receive housing benefit. Note that 75% is a low percentage in sheltered housing.

The social landlord will have no option but to close such a low level sheltered housing scheme given income cuts of this size and scale which equate to an income loss of 8% – 12% just in the first year and increasing each year thereafter.

Recently I was given figures for a new Extra Care sheltered scheme in the North East (all singing, all dancing, state of the art, multi-million pound development) and the social landlord receives just over £180 per week in housing benefit for each tenant which will fall to the 1 bed LHA rate there of just under £84 per week.

That means a weekly shortfall of just over £96 per week and £5000 per new tenant per year and if the same 16% turnover rate applies then this is a £120,000 – £160,000 per year cut and undoubted closure as the entire scheme is not viable.

Those 100+ extra care tenants will also have the only option of registered care, that’s 100+ Mums and Dads put in a home and at a cost of anywhere between £500 to £900 per week in the North East, and very much more cost to the public purse than the current £180 per week in housing benefit.  It is between 3 and 5 times the cost in fact and that also reveals why this LHA maxima cut is the falsest of false economies.

Summary

The LHA maxima policy has no merit in moral or economic terms.  None of the above is hyperbole or scaremongering or the use of polarised figures to skew the figures in any way to embellish the economic argument.

The LHA maxima policy is not just amoral it is economic incompetence from this government and the policy simply has to go.

____________________

** This same system means that all  – that means 100% – of women and children in a DV refuge will be hit by massive cuts from April 2018 and the refuges, all of them will close.  The typical length of stay in a DV refuge is 6 months or less and so on 4 April 2018 every resident at a refuge will have entered it way after April 2016 and so ALL will be affected.

In a separate blog the level of housing benefit cut from the 17 refuges I have advised is 62.40% and obviously closure.

The exact same happens with all other short-term supported housing such as single homeless hostels and is why they will also ALL close.

In a separate blog the single homeless provision alone in Liverpool will see £3 million per year cuts to housing benefit and the government is planning to give Liverpool just £360k more in Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to cover this £3 million per year loss to homeless services; and a further £1.3 – £1.45 million housing benefit cut to sheltered housing and £x million per year to all other supported housing such as provision for mental health, learning, physical and sensory disability, acquired brain injury and a range of other vulnerable persons supported housing.

Figures do not lie, only MP’s do when they say all the above is scaremongering.

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