People supported by Assured Housing Association have told us that it is important for them to have opportunities for greater independence.
An important aspect of Independant Living is that individuals have the right to say where they live, and who they live with. People with a learning disability must have access to appropriate housing, with a range of occupancy, tenancy and ownership options.
A 2011 report by Cordis Bright showed that around 70% of people with a learning disability who live at home want to change their living situation in order to become more independent. People with a learning disability should be empowered to choose their living arrangements, whether it be living alone with full-time support, part-time support, or living in shared accommodation. It’s essential that there are pathways available to help those with learning disabilities live where they want, and with who they want.
Assured Housing Association offers housing in supported and group living tenancies. We have tenants living in houses and flats throughout the United Kingdom and are committed to helping people with learning disabilities live a fulfilling and independent life.
Barriers to Independent Living
Planned welfare reforms are concerning when it comes to the future of housing offerings available to those with a learning disability. The government’s 2010 ‘Valuing People Now’ policy states its objective for housing is for “all people with learning disabilities and their families to have the opportunity to make an informed choice about where and with whom they live”. Concerns have been raised that welfare reforms will make this objective unachievable. Like many others, Assured Housing Association is a not for profit organisation and we rely on fair funding and grants to continue to provide services and support to those living with a learning disability.
In the last 50 years, housing for people with learning disabilities has improved vastly, and important steps have been made to put an end to institutions that allowed people to be treated like prisoners. But it’s imperative that we continue to move forward. Welfare reforms have the potential to damage the organisations that are striving to help people with learning disabilities achieve their right to live independently. Increased demand for housing and support is also concerning, with facilities currently unable to keep up.
Rent cuts for supported housing
The 2015 budget saw a complete U-turn of the Chancellor’s 2013 decision to allow social rents to increase by 1% more than inflation per year over 10 years. The 2015 July budget announced that social rents would be required to decrease by 1% each year for the following four years from April 2016.
This news promised a grim outlook for social landlords. A forecast by Sue Harvey, Director at the management consultancy Campbell Ticket showed that a 1% decrease over four years would represent a 15% decrease in income to social landlords.
The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that implementation of the announcement would result in 14,000 less affordable homes being built by housing associations. This figure is especially significant at a time where demand for housing is only increasing.
After much campaigning against the 1% decrease, the government announced in February 2016 that it would delay these measures for the 2016/17 year. While Assured Housing Association welcomed this pause, if the planned changes go ahead we still have major concerns about the sustainability of supported living.
Due to begin in April 2017, the three years of a 1% decrease in social rents is still set to see social housing income drop by £194m. Again, this will have a knock-on effect in terms of the amount invested in affordable properties in the future.
These measures will have little to no benefit for tenants renting from social landlords, as many are low-income earners and have their rent covered by their received housing benefit.
Local Housing Allowance cap
In the 2015 Spending Review, the Chancellor announced plans to cap the amount of rent that Housing Benefit will cover in the social sector to the relevant Local Housing Allowance. The National Housing Federation estimates that implementing the cap will affect 53,411 homes, leaving them with an average of £68.05 less each week.
In September 2016 the plan was clarified in the Chancellor’s Spending Review, and a proposal was put forward that will apply to supported and sheltered housing from 2019.
From 2019, the government has proposed that all housing benefits be paid up to the relevant Local Housing Allowance level, including supported housing. Due to the extra services and built-for-purpose facilities that people with a learning disability may have, supported housing is a great deal more expensive than general needs housing. The cap means that many people who live in supported housing may become unable to afford their homes.
As a short term fix, a top up will be provided to cover the gap between the Local Housing Allowance rate and supported living rental costs. This is to be administered by the local authority, which has the potential to cause problems as each local authority may have their own administrative style.
There will be a ring-fence around top up money transferred from the Department of Work and Pensions to the Department for Communities and Local Government to local authorities. This means funds will be only used for top up costs to support housing benefits.
The new way of calculating the Local Housing Allowance rate will not include a Shared Accommodation Rate. Instead, the one-bedroom rate will apply to anyone under the age of 35 living in supported housing.
Universal credit and Housing Benefit payments
In the National Housing Federations’s 2015 report on ‘Welfare reform impact assessment’, the concerns of housing associations and tenants around the introduction of Universal Credit are outlined.
Their findings showed that “98% of housing associations are concerned about their tenants’ capability to cope with monthly budgeting and 94% are concerned about their tenants’ capability to access online systems”. Many of our tenants find budgeting further than a few weeks ahead difficult. Findings in the National Housing Federation’s report also back this up, with 70% of tenants surveyed agreeing that they usually plan their budget fortnightly or weekly.
As well as this, a staggering “92% of tenants say they would prefer their housing benefit to be paid directly to their landlord”. Accessing online systems was also a concern of tenants, who would rather have their housing benefit paid directly to their landlord.
Local authorities and exempt rents
In some cases, private sector tenancies can be eligible to be considered ‘exempt’ from the rules that normally apply when calculating House Benefits. If a landlord decides to take on a tenant with a learning disability or autism, their property may be leased by a support provider who can then claim exempt rents and increase the Housing Benefit.
In order to claim exempt rents, the landlord must be either a county council, a housing association, a charity, a voluntary organisation, or a landlord who has agreed to provide support and supervise the tenant. It’s essential that the landlord provides support directly, rather than facilitating care through other means.
The process around claiming exempt rents can be arduous and confusing. Simplifying and streamlining the process would enable more accommodation to become available to people with a learning disability or autism, resulting in more pressure being taken off other services.
“Transforming care for people with learning disabilities – next steps” is a plan made in collaboration with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Care Quality Commission (CQC), Department of Health, Health Education England (HEE), Local Government Association (LGA) and NHS England.
The plan’s objectives are to: empower people and their families, make sure people are getting the right care in the right place, tighten regulation and inspection, improve care quality by raising workforce capability and ensuring information is available at all times for the people who need it.
The government’s proposed welfare reforms seem counter-intuitive to achieving such objectives. Without the availability of appropriate supported living arrangements, it’s impossible to ensure people are receiving the right care in the right place and more likely that they will end up hospitalised.
Without adequate funding, housing associations rely on rental income to invest in building more property to take the burden off hospitals. If implemented, the 1% reduction in social renting and introduction of the Local Housing Allowance cap to supported housing will make this next to impossible.
The National Housing Foundation submitted a proposal in July 2015 for “a strong and sustainable future for supported and sheltered housing”. The proposal states that there are three clear principles that should underpin all decisions made in the creation of a new funding model, all of which Assured Housing Association stands by.
The first is that “no one with support needs will become homeless” or need to sleep rough as a consequence of funding reforms. This is imperative, as changes to supported living need to constantly be improving the quality of life of people with learning disabilities, rather than detracting from it.
Secondly, “the actual housing and support cost of delivering a quality service will be fully met, and will be flexible enough to meet changing levels of demand”. The demand for supported living services is growing every year, and the cost needs to be adequately provided for.
And lastly, “the taxpayer and those living in supported and sheltered will have evidence of the quality and value for money of the services being funded”. For meaningful change to occur, buy-in from the whole community is essential. This can only be achieved by clear and detailed evidence of the value of their contribution.
Action for supported housing authorities to take
Providers need to strive to give people with learning disabilities or autism the support they need to choose where they live and who they live with. By working with local authorities to educate private landlords, more options can be explored to encourage them to rent their properties to tenants who receive a housing benefit. Supported housing authorities should also collate as much feedback as possible from the people they support, as well as their families, to continue to build a strong case for the abolishment of proposed welfare reforms.
Action for local authorities to take
Local authorities should equip private landlords with the information they need to take on tenants with learning disabilities or autism. They should consider any potential incentives for private landlords to provide additional housing options. Housing Benefit Officers should be well trained to provide correct and clear guidance around exempt rents, as well as identify any exempt rent opportunities. With local authorities becoming responsible for dispensing funds, it’s essential that they have the right processes in place. Safeguards need to be put in place to ensure the funds are indeed ring-fenced and go where they are needed.
Action for the government
We need to see the abolishment of the Local Housing Allowance proposal to eliminate the risk of tenants with learning disabilities becoming unable to afford homes that provide the support they need. To ensure ongoing development, the 1% rent cut must not be imposed on supported housing. A process should also be implemented where social landlords may request, with the permission of their tenant, that rent should be paid directly to the landlord to reduce the risk of the tenant falling behind. This may require forming a new governing body to oversee the process of paying housing costs through Universal Credits. The government should also work with local authorities to outline clearly the guidelines around exempt rents so that they can be used to provide a further avenue for tenants to access safe supported living.
The government needs to look past quick fixes and together with supported housing associations and local authorities build a plan for sustainable funding that incorporates building new homes for people with a learning disability or autism. More funding should be provided through the Transforming Care program. The agreed funding model would need to be introduced gradually to allow a smooth and non-disruptive transition.