Currently we have a consultation paper about how the government plans to change the housing benefit funding in supported housing. The consultation paper is frankly a mess and holds many huge aspects of financial risk that I maintain social landlords are not fully aware of.
Here I posit that sheltered housing is NOT (necessarily) supported housing and holding that errant view is a very costly one indeed and will inevitably lead to the closure of EXISTING sheltered housing when all of the housing focus is on the policy meaning no more FUTURE new sheltered housing.
The LHA Maxima Cap policy as it applies to supported housing – a very complex term – puts in place what has been dubbed as SP Mark 2, a commissioning driven way of funding support and on the (highly spurious and highly superficial) basis that local commissioners know local needs best.
They, the Commissioners, don’t know as SP Mark 1 clearly proves and even if they did it does not follow that they would commission those services most in need.
In short the commissioning process doesn’t work and in this context is little more than blame deflection for central government taking away the right of vulnerable people to have their housing needs met by right as they have under current HB funding.
Make no mistake this 2017 incarnation of the LHA Maxima policy is not the same as the 2011 version of it that was quickly abandoned and rightly and was at pains to say it was cost-neutral or no overall HB cut: This 2017 version of the LHA Maxima is a huge cut in housing benefit an is not cost neutral at all.
The LHA Maxima cap policy as it affects supported housing is the subject of the current consultation paper yet the same LHA Maxima cap policy affects general needs housing too and is NOT part of this or any other consultation paper. So if some parts of sheltered housing are NOT supported housing but general needs housing, which I what I posit here, then there is a huge problem.
To explain this very complicated area and even to social housing professionals I have just looked at a sheltered housing 1 bed flat in Wirral in Merseyside that is advertised by a social landlord on the choice based lettings portal for most of Merseyside that is called PropertyPool. I use this as illustrative to explain.
As you can see this 1 bed property says it is sheltered housing and has a weekly gross rent level of £131.31. The 1 bed LHA rate to which housing benefit will be limited to in Wirral is £86.30 which leaves a £45.01 per week shortfall as the LHA Maxima policy will cap the housing benefit at £86.30.
If we look a bit deeper at this gross rent level and the property we find this:
The devil is always in the detail and I have highlighted two points here of (a) the service has no resident warden, and (b) the breakdown of the gross rent figure of £131.31 per week.
As there is no resident warden there is an issue as to whether this sheltered housing property is supported housing or not. The absence of the resident warden does suggest the level of support is de minimis – in lay terms insignificant and low – which is a specific term that means the service is not another specific HB term of ‘exempt accommodation.’ Yet does this de minimis level of support mean that the service is more correctly called general needs housing and not supported? I suggest the answer is YES it does mean the property is not supported housing
IF the service is not supported housing then the current rent charged above the LHA Maxima Cap limit of £86.30 does NOT go into the cash limited pot to be given back to this service by the local council in the commissioning process dubbed SP mark 2.
The breakdown of the gross rent figures mean that currently housing benefit pays all of the £131.31 per week less the support charge of £5.35 which is ineligible for HB to pay. In short HB pays £125.94 per week and the tenant pays the £5.35 per week support charge from his or her own other income.
IF the service IS classed as supported the £125.94 that is currently paid as right to the tenant in HB reduces to the LHA Maxima of £86.30 per week and the difference of £39.64 goes into the support pot to be administered in a form of Supporting People Mark 2 system.
Yet IF the service is classed as general needs housing and not supported housing due to the de minimis level of support then the housing benefit is simply cut by this £39.64 meaning the tenant has to contribute this in addition to the £5.35 they already pay.
This means that the pot for ‘support’ funding is less than anticipated and this service becomes wholly non financially viable to any sheltered housing tenant on welfare benefit and who is not self-payer.
This means that existing sheltered housing is at huge financial risk and not just the financial risk the LHA Maxima cap gives to future new sheltered housing being built but also to existing sheltered housing’s survival.
A service in the absence of a resident warden and with de minimis level of support because of that could still be classed as supported housing IF and only if it falls into one of the three categories of specified housing which is yet another term in this complex arena.
Category 1 specified accommodation is exempt accommodation which this service is clearly not. Category 3 is DV refuges which this is not. Category 4 is homeless hostels which this service is not. As such to be classed as supported housing the service above which I use here for illustrative purposes has to fit into category 2 of the specified accommodation rules.
Category 2) Supported accommodation where the claimant has a) been admitted to receive care, support supervision and b) does indeed receive care, support and supervision.
The above definition comes from here and correctly records what the regulations say and I have highlighted the word ‘and’ as both parts of this need to be true for the service to be classed as supported.
As to part (a) we can say that this is highly probable and likely and the tenant would know this condition of tenancy. Yet part (b) means that every sheltered tenant in this de mininis and non warden controlled service has to actually receive care, support or supervision which is not likely and which is not the rationale of this type of sheltered housing.
In housing terminology that pre-dates all the labels discussed above sheltered housing with a non-resident warden was and still is known as Category 1 sheltered and it sat in the void between general needs housing and definitively supported housing (which Cat 2 sheltered, ie resident warden and Cat 2.5 sheltered now called Extra Care definitely IS supported housing.)
In many cases the majority of the sheltered tenants received no support or care as the rationale of this type of sheltered housing was and is preventative and pro-active and to prolong quality of life and improve social isolation risks and to prevent the tenant having to go into costly and disempowering registered care provision.
Put very simple, in all forms of genuinely supported housing the tenant or resident needs to have a perceived support need as a condition of entry for example you need to be homeless to enter a hostel and need to have fled domestic violence to enter a refuge and need to have a mental health condition before being allowed into a mental health group home an so on. Yet sheltered housing is only conditional on age, which while it can and does bring support need as some future date, it is not necessarily to have support need as a condition of tenure in sheltered housing.
So if the tenant is not RECEIVING care support and supervision then there is a strong argument that such a service is NOT supported housing but merely general needs housing. If this holds the £39.64 per week figure illustrated here will NOT go into the cash limited pot to be redistributed it will simply be a cut in housing benefit as the LHA Maxima cap applies to general needs housing.
Now and given that Riverside, the social landlord here, has costed the support element at just £5.35 per week why would a local authority commissioner fund this with an additional £39.64 per week? Why would a commissioning decision be to pay £39.64 per week for a service the provider of that service costs at just £5.35 per week and they are already receiving from the tenant … who by definition is not ass vulnerable as other tenants or residents in genuine or other forms of supported housing and has clearly higher support needs?
Such a posit is wholly illogical and does not conform to the commissioning rationale, its theory and system that the LHA Maxima Cap for supported housing holds as central.
The financial risks to EXISTING sheltered housing with low or de minimis levels of support are there and de minimis is usually approximated to mean less than 2 hours per person per week when the support charge here equates to around 15 – 20 minutes of support per person per week!
Unfortunately, the LHA Maxima Cap consultation paper does not even touch on this issue never mind provide any form of clarification on it and so there is a huge potential financial risk to existing sheltered housing provision that absolutely has to be clarified before this consultation ends.
Yet this issue is being missed by those social housing professionals who provide these existing very low level sheltered housing schemes … probably the very same types who used to ask me over 20 years ago at any housing seminar, workshop or conference How many sheltered units you got when my name badge read Supported Housing Manager as they then and now wrongly equate sheltered housing with supported when they are very different and critically different terms….