There is still uncertainty about the future of sheltered housing in the social rented sector. This is important because sheltered schemes offer supportive communal housing to older people on low incomes who cannot afford retirement housing in the private sector The Government is currently reviewing its policy to place a cap on housing benefit payments for supported housing, as well as a cap on rents. This could potentially reduce the income of housing associations and their capacity to offer housing support. The ongoing financial uncertainty is also undermining the development of new sheltered schemes.
The results of a Government review of funding for supported housing is now expected in July. In this context we asked John Richardson, the Chair of a residents group (SHUK) that campaigns on the retention of wardens and housing support services, to give his perspective on the role of sheltered housing and why it needs to be protected.
John’s experience of living in sheltered housing
As a sheltered housing tenant myself I’d like to make the case for protecting and promoting sheltered housing. In my view sheltered housing offers a really vital service that gives older people the confidence to move into more suitable and manageable housing. It allows older people to live in purpose built housing where they can remain living independently for longer. But, this can only work if there is a warden service offering frontline care, support and advice to residents.
Wardens often help residents to delay or avoid the need for expensive residential care. A scheme with a warden is a much more efficient way of providing support compared with hard pressed and time limited carers who have to travel from place to place. Wardens also reduce the cost to the NHS because they can identity signs of poor health and ensure residents get treatment at an earlier stage. This can reduce hospital admissions and speed up discharge to avoid ‘bed blocking’.
Compared with the potential savings, the cost of a warden can be easily justified. Based on our local experience, just one warden can support 60 residents at a cost of £450 per week. The cost of just one person in a residential care home is an average of £600 per week.
Sheltered housing can also offer a better alternative to the costly adaptation of a large house where an older person can be left isolated and lonely – apart from occasional visits from a support worker. Sheltered housing can help to develop a friendly community where residents can support each other and can take part in social events and voluntary activities.
In summary, sheltered housing with a warden is cost effective. It offers a purpose built affordable home for life in a supportive community that works for many older people.