Vulnerable people who rely on supported housing to provide a home and extra support to help them cope with life’s challenges face a summer of uncertainty and even homelessness.
The government has recently completed a review of supported housing, and we were expecting an announcement in July about plans to reform its funding. Instead, the new work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, has said he will make an announcement in the early autumn.
In the last autumn statement, the government announced plans to bring housing benefit for social tenants in line with the local housing allowance (LHA) private rates from 2018. This made the future for both tenants and providers even less certain. LHA rates for a shared room or one bed flat are well below the actual housing costs in most of St Mungo’s supported housing services.
The government has failed to clarify whether specialist supported housing will be hit by the cap, but delays to this decision leave people at risk of homelessness. Supported housing providers rely on rent to cover housing costs and the majority of tenants rely on housing benefit to cover their rent.
The type of accommodation and support provided is tailored to the individual needs of vulnerable tenants, including people who are homeless and those fleeing domestic violence. This means housing costs are typically higher than in general needs housing: we provide much more than bricks and mortar.
Eventually, housing benefit will be phased out and replaced by universal credit everywhere, a process which has already started in some areas of Britain. This will present some real challenges for vulnerable tenants and their landlords, and this is one of the reasons the government started looking at funding reforms.
The government has delayed the introduction of the LHA cap by a year, but it still looms over those of us working hard to help people to rebuild their lives following a period of poor health, time in prison or sleeping rough, or other personal crises.
For St Mungo’s, the uncertainty means trying to plan for a potential annual loss in income of £12m or more. It means difficult decisions about whether or not we increase the number of services we provide for vulnerable people, and endless miserable meetings about what we will do with our properties if we can’t afford to provide services for people who are homeless.