Supported Housing and Caps to Housing Benefit March 2017

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Government’s recent plans to cap Housing Benefit for people living in supported housing.

I share your concern that plans to cap benefits for those individuals living in supported housing will disproportionately target those members of our society that are the most vulnerable, including people affected by severe mental illness. I wrote to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning in January to address this issue. It is my belief that supported housing provides a valuable lifeline to many people living with mental illness; having on-site staff and fellow residents who understand ones individual needs can mean the world to individuals achieving and maintaining recovery. Supported housing is often the difference between rough sleeping, lengthy hospital admissions, or long term stays in restrictive environments and a housing environment that is supportive and healing.

I agree with the NHS’s report on the Implementing the Five Year Forward View on Mental Health that there is clear evidence that “improving outcomes for people with mental health problems supports them to achieve greater wellbeing, build resilience and independence and optimise life chances, as well as reducing premature mortality”. Adequately funded Supported Housing helps to improve the outcomes for people with mental health, and has my full support.

In July 2016 the Shadow Frontbench secured an Opposition Day debate where it called on the Government to exempt supported housing from its cuts to Housing Benefit and to consult with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it. 
During this debate the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions stated that the Government would take the summer to review the evidence and expected to report in the early autumn on a future funding solution for supported housing. However, I remain concerned about the impact that the delay the Government's review into providing a long-term, evidence-based sustainable solution is having on investors. It is also resulting in many providers stating that they will be forced to close much of their existing provision, which is particularly troubling as this type of accommodation is already in short supply. 

In September 2016, the Government confirmed it would be deferring application of LHA rates to social rents for supported housing further - until 2019/2020. At this point it would introduce a new funding model, which will ensure the sector continues to be funded at current levels. The Government has committed to providing ring-fenced 'top-up funds' through local authorities to ensure vulnerable people continue to be supported. In November 2016, a consultation was launched to develop the details for this new funding model. The consultation closed on 13 February and I will follow the outcome of this closely.
Furthermore, the Government has stated that it is to provide an additional £70 million in discretionary housing payments to mitigate the impact of these cuts. However, I believe the amount is inadequate to meet the shortfall created and providers of supported housing need certainty of income to cover the cost of developing this specialist accommodation. 

The introduction of LHA rate cap to supported and sheltered schemes will have a devastating effect on the financial sustainability and therefore ongoing provision of local organizations which operate in Nottingham North. This is because the cost of supported and sheltered homes is made up of a rent charge and a service charge. Service charges allows organisations, like Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA), to provide an intensive housing management service including providing staff to assist individuals to comply with the requirements of their tenancy, basis furniture and equipment, robust health and safety and fire safety management, provision of CCTV and security monitoring and often a communal lounge which provides a venue for work, peer support and the involvement of other local agencies and community groups. In 2011 NCHA provided just over 1,000 supported housing sites in the greater Nottinghamshire area. The proposed rate cap would potentially be detrimental to NCHA and the residents of these supported housing sites.

But under the Government’s proposition the service charge element of the housing benefit claim would not be met under the rate cap. The severity of this impact in financial terms for NCHA is approximately £3.6 million per annum. They would not be able to supply such amount of money themselves.

I stand with Rethink Mental Illness in the belief that access to a safe, decent and appropriate home is a basic human right. We know that currently 1 in 3 people sleeping rough have a mental health problem. Any cuts to the Supported Housing Benefit by this Government could push even more onto the streets and out of the care that they desperately need. This is an abhorrent failure of our government and society to support some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, we can do better. The Conservative government must do more to ensure that those living with mental illnesses have access to adequate housing.

The Labour Party has long fought to protect vulnerable remembers of our communities, including those affected by severe mental illness. As a Member of Parliament I will continue to advocate for those in my constituency that will be effected by any caps to their Housing Benefits.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about the Government's plans to cap Housing Benefit for people living in supported housing, which I will continue to oppose