Supported housing funding isn't sweetness and roses

February 13th, 2017 by Rachael Byrne - Home Group Executive Director New Models of care in Care and Support blog

Dried roses on a white wooden background

Was it a coincidence the consultation on supported and sheltered housing closed on February 13th?

A deadline of Valentine’s Day wouldn’t have been appropriate as things certainly haven’t been all roses and sweet messages. Reaching consensus on how to respond hasn’t been easy.

Social care funding, or the lack of, has again exploded onto the news agenda, and the link between health and social care is ever apparent.

If we put housing into the mix as well, it is clear the future of supported housing does lie in integration and outcomes for the customer that deliver on housing, health and care.

It’s a message which has been repeatedly made by providers and patients’ groups within the sectors for a number of years. In some parts of the country there has been great progress achieving greater integration which results in both improved outcomes for patients and greater efficiencies for the taxpayer.

Home Group’s mental health step down service in Blackpool is just one example of where integration works well. We provide accommodation and support to people who are medically ready to leave hospital but can’t be discharged because they have no-where to go.

Supported housing, when done correctly, can not only provide a home, it can facilitate patient discharges, it can also prevent admissions to hospital in the first place; which frankly is in the interests of both patient and tax payer.

The important part of that sentence though is when done correctly and that involves adequate funding. Supported housing transforms people’s lives but it comes at a cost.

I think it’s fair to say Government didn’t appreciate that when it first introduced proposals to transform Local Housing Allowances (LHA). To give credit where it’s due though it didn’t take Ministers and their advisors very long to listen to the sector and realise what they were proposing was unworkable.

We’ve had extensions to the current funding regime but in April 2019 things will change when top up funding is made available to local authorities. And the time to influence that funding model is now.

So what are Home Group’s wish lists? And why should anyone care? I’ll answer those questions in reverse. As the UK’s largest provider of supported housing services working in more than 200 local authorities we think we know a little about what makes the sector tick.

Dealing with services as varied as domestic violence, drug and alcohol recovery, mental health, ex-offenders, homelessness and older people’s services we have gained a wealth of experience in the last three decades.

What’s on our wish list?

Who runs the top up?

  • Well, one of the questions DCLG asks is; ‘Where should the funding sit in local authority and in two tier areas which authority should have control?’

    I firmly believe this should sit with County Councils rather than District Councils. They are responsible for much of the social care provision on offer and by aligning top up funds to social care budgets it will drive efficiency and value for money.

    In addition working at County Council level offers more opportunities for further collaboration between health, social care and supported housing. It isn’t easy, after all Districts will still be responsible for housing, but if it has to go somewhere then the upper tier simply makes more sense. 
How do we protect the system over time?
  • Allocation of top up funding to local authorities should recognise that while in some areas of the UK the LHA more than covers the cost of supported housing, in others LHA doesn’t even cover rent or service charges. Put simply in areas where rents are at the lower end of the scale, and subsequently LHA is lower, more money will be needed in top up funds to ensure the viability of existing services.

    The top up fund not only needs to take into account regional variations but also safeguard against variations in demand over time.

    The Government has pledged to ‘ensure that the sector continues to be funded at current levels’. It needs to be explicitly stated by Government that they will provide an annual uprating which is linked to support housing need.

    Failure of funding to keep pace with inflation and demand will result in either a per capita loss of funding or rationing of services to only the most vulnerable. So to keep politicians honest we’d like to see an annual update to Parliament which provides a figure on the level of need.

Demonstrating the difference we make

  • Home Group firmly believes that any funding model should be supported with a binding national commissioning framework. This would ensure standards nationally while still allowing local flexibility. Failure to do this would mean outcomes being measured exclusively at local levels and do nothing to further drive the integration of housing, health and care.

    Home Group’s supported and sheltered housing provides homes, support and care for 30k customers every year. Seeing through the proposals and making our voice heard is vital.

    We owe to it our current customers, our social purpose and most of all to the customers that will need homes, support and care in the future.