The future funding of supported housing was one of the key issues affecting older people that was put on hold during the General Election. The Government proposes to cap housing benefit (Local Housing Allowance) for sheltered and other types of supported accommodation – which could potentially harm vulnerable older people with a loss of services and the eventual closure of some schemes.
Age UK strongly supports sheltered housing because we know it reduces loneliness and isolation, promotes wellbeing and independence – while reducing pressure on residential care and the NHS. Overall the Government has estimated that supported housing saves £3.5bn a year. In recent years although a great deal of attention has been focused on the benefits of retirement housing in the private sector – social rented retirement housing plays an equally important role for older people on low incomes who have little or no home equity.
Proposals to introduce a cap on housing benefit will be based on rent levels in the private rented market. This will create significant variations in funding levels because the cost of supported housing is different to general needs housing in the private rented sector. The Government’s approach would create a postcode lottery with many providers having to withdraw services or close schemes altogether.
The Government argues this won’t happen because an additional funding pot will be made available to local authorities to make up for any shortfalls in Local Housing Allowance as a result of the cap. There is some scepticism about this because previous funding under the ‘Supporting People’ programme was eventually cutback or reallocated – despite reassurances that the money would be protected. As a result many sheltered schemes have seen cuts in support services, a rise in fees, and the loss of onsite scheme managers (wardens). Even if the new funding arrangements maintained schemes at the present level this would not address an historic decline in many places.
A cross-party report by the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Select Committees said the Local Housing Allowance cap is inappropriate for supported housing. While they acknowledge the Government has an obligation to seek good value for money, they believe there should be a ‘Supported Housing Allowance’ that reflects the actual costs of running supported housing. They argue this needs to be accompanied by national standards that promote good quality and deliver services in a consistent way, regardless of where you live.
Age UK will be writing to David Gauke, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pension, asking the Government to reconsider its proposals and to find a fairer approach to sustaining good quality sheltered communities which offer older residents support through an onsite scheme manager. We agree with many older residents who tell us that having a designated person with responsibility for individual schemes is essential. Wardens guarantee access to care and support and play an important role in maintaining a sense of community – which allows potentially vulnerable older people to remain independent, healthy and happy.
We very much hope the new Government will reconsider its approach in the light of the select committee recommendations and find a fairer way to fund sheltered housing that protects older people and does not threaten its long term viability or growth.
All older people should have access to safe and secure housing options that suit their needs and aspirations. Find out more about our work on housing issues on the Age UK website