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Steps being taken to secure a viable future for supported housing

Source: PSE Oct/Nov 16

Emily Bird, policy leader at the National Housing Federation (NHF), reflects on the challenges facing supported housing and the steps being taken to provide a sustainable future.

Supported housing for vulnerable people is facing an uncertain future, with a new government funding model on the table. Yet at September’s Health and Housing Conference, housing providers showed they are still looking towards collaboration with other sectors, to secure a positive future for this vital type of housing. 

Supported housing changes lives for older people, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, people with learning disabilities and many more. This model of housing is person-centred, place-based and offers a great model of the transformational approach that many involved in public service delivery strive towards. By enabling people to live with dignity, security and improved health, supported housing offers improved independence for people with particular needs. 

Amanda’s story 

For example, when Amanda was 13 she started drinking and abusing drugs. Things spiralled out of control so that by 16 she was in a psychiatric ward. She said: “My partner was beating me up and emotionally abusing me. I lived to get out of my face and escape. Eventually I lost my house and ended up sleeping on the streets. It was terrifying and I always had to sleep with one eye open. By now I needed heroin to function. I knew I had hit rock bottom and that I needed to get clean. 

“When I arrived at Transform Housing I was terrified. But the house and staff gave me the security I desperately needed after being abused, assaulted and living on the streets. My world is expanding and I am building solid foundations for my future. I have three jobs now, one of which is to look after an elderly lady.” 

The future of supported housing for people like Amanda is currently hanging in the balance. The government announced back in the Autumn Statement its plan to cap the amount of housing benefit available to pay individuals’ rents. The impact of this for supported housing, which operates on tiny margins, is potentially catastrophic. Thousands of existing schemes would become unviable and future projects would remain undeveloped. 

A new model 

And so, in September, the work and pensions secretary proposed a future of funding for supported housing which exempts it from this crude cap, acknowledging that this would have had the effect of limiting housing options for those who need it most. The new system is likely to involve a new element of locally administered funding, as a top up to capped benefits payments, in an effort to make sure that enough funding is available for supported housing. 

There is a huge amount to work out in the detail of how this new model takes shape, not least the proposed local ring-fencing mechanism, and how the size of the funding pot will be determined. It is essential that the government collaborates with – and listens closely to – providers and clients, in order to instil confidence in a secure and sustainable future for supported housing. 

But we are starting to see that by collaborating across housing and health sectors on the ground – and across national government departments – we might just be able to carve out a future for this vital model of housing. 

The steps being made to secure a viable future for supported housing come on the back of an unprecedented sector-wide consultation run by the NHF, and a united voice which spoke for housing providers of all shapes, sizes and specialisms. 

I am proud that when the housing association sector came together to look to our collective future at our recent conference, we did not crumple and fade at the prospect of an uncertain future for supported housing. Instead, our Health and Housing Conference showed housing providers are grasping the chance to work with their partners across different sectors, and find new opportunities to meet the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve.



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