Concerns are being voiced loud and clear from around the housing sector about the potential changes to funding for supported housing in England.
As a large provider in the supported housing market, we believe that if the planned two-year definition of short-term supported housing goes ahead, the vast majority of housing associations will cease to develop services for people who will transition through supported housing.
Why is this?
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government proposes that ‘short-term’ supported housing will be funded through a new ring-fenced grant to local authorities in England.
However, based on previous experience of the old Supporting People programme, organisations like ours are not confident that this ring-fence will remain intact.
If the government’s proposals proceed as planned, uncertainty around the allocation of funding for housing costs would extend to approximately 70 per cent of Look Ahead’s customers.
These are customers who, at present, are benefiting from the ways in which Look Ahead is increasingly delivering services that bridge the gap between health and social care.
For instance, crisis houses for mental health, rehabilitation services and forensic health services. All of these services save the public purse thousands of pounds and reduce bed-blocking within the NHS.
They also enable people to live in the community rather than hospital, maintaining or creating links with family, friends and finding employment.
Our Tabard Forensic Service in London, which houses 19 male residents with serious mental health needs and significant offending histories, is an example of a scheme that would be classified as ‘short term’ under current proposals, even though customers spend between three and five years in self-contained flats with their own front doors – that’s a long time to live without having any rights and a legal tenancy agreement.
An independent report by HACT, published this year, found that it is £2,972 per week cheaper to house one of our customers at the Tabard Forensic Service than the average cost of one of the most likely alternatives: a medium-secure mental health inpatient service.
One of the biggest advantages of housing-based support is the work do to enable our customers to move on from our services, while managing risks. The proposed changes to funding would mean we would be unable to focus on preparing individuals for managing their own tenancies when they leave us.
Across our organisation, it is very unlikely we would be able to invest reserves and privately-raised finances in services for which we will only have year-to-year certainty.
Housing development, or even purchase and refurbishment of existing buildings, requires certainty of rental income over a 30-year period.
How can the certainty we need be provided?
If the government listens to the suggestion by us and many of our peers, and amends the definition of short-term to 12 weeks, this will affect approximately 11 per cent of our service users. This remains a risk, but is more palatable for our organisation.
Even so, the result of a change to a 12-week definition is that from a business perspective we’d have to move the majority of our accommodation-based services to a longer tenure.
This may mean a dramatic diminution of accommodation available for care leavers and homeless people, and also those with mental health issues and learning disabilities in London and surrounding counties. Given we currently provide over 2,500 units in these areas, this will have a significant impact on the level of provision.
There is a huge need to develop more of this provision in line with the New Care Models, initiative. This is an NHS England programme, which is one of its first steps towards delivering its Five-Year Forward View to support the improvement and integration of forensic services.
However, we would not be able to develop new schemes of this kind based on the current proposals.
What’s the alternative?
Retaining the link between rents and the rent formula for social housing would give organisations like ours the certainty to develop more services like Tabard.
We’re working with organisations including the National Housing Federation, Homeless Link and Rethink to help the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to better understand the implications of the proposed changes – before short-term supported housing is lost forever.
Irmani Smallwood is director of business development and innovation at Look Ahead.