Homelessness: Funding for short-term supported housing must remain in the main welfare system – Riverside’s response to Government consultation

Riverside is one of the largest charitable housing association groups in the country, owning and managing over 53,000 homes across England and Scotland. We are a large provider of supported housing, delivering homes and services to over 10,000 customers across 872 services. We are England’s third largest provider of homelessness services.

We welcome the Government’s consultation on the Funding of Supported Housing and acknowledge that in bringing forward the current proposals, it has listened to sector concerns about the arbitrary capping of benefits to meet housing costs. Whilst we support the principles of the new funding regime, we have deep concerns about some of the details, in particular the broad definition of ‘short-term’ supported housing which is to be funded through a new model of local scheme-based grants.

The Government has stated that “every vulnerable individual needing to stay in short-term supported accommodation who would be eligible to have their housing costs supported through the welfare system will continue to have their housing costs met through our funding model for short-term accommodation”. This is a bold and hugely encouraging statement, however we do not believe that the proposals in their current form can achieve this important commitment through a local, cash-limited grant funding model, with or without a ring-fence. We are concerned that the proposed new model will result in:

  • A lost opportunity to prepare tenants to engage with the welfare system whilst living in intensively managed transitional housing.
  • The return to an institutionalised model of supported housing with a loss of basic rights for residents, many of whom live in self-contained accommodation with secure rights of occupation.
  • A loss of independence for providers, who will become completely reliant on local authorities for funding to cover all of their housing costs, including repairs, cleaning, utilities, and meeting loan repayments. This will undermine viability and stifle innovation.
  • A significant reduction in investment, with providers finding it increasingly difficult to access long-term private finance, because of a lack of assurance about long-term income streams.

To address these concerns, we recommend the following changes:

  • The default position for residents living in supported housing (including short-term) should be that their housing costs continue to be met through the main welfare benefit system.
  • The administration of Universal Credit – and in particular the speed with which claims are administered – should be reviewed, so that it can work better for tenants living in supported housing, building on the Trusted Partner model already being used by many social landlords.
  • Providers should be able to ‘opt’ into a localised scheme-based grant system, for the small number of schemes where the typical length of stay is such that it will not be possible for tenants to establish a UC claim to cover their housing costs. This would narrow the definition of ‘short-term’, restricting the new funding model to ‘very’ short-term or crisis supported housing. Funding should also be made available through these local grants to enable providers to reclaim housing costs incurred in schemes which are not part of the localised funding system, but where tenancies end before a UC claim is established. This would be funded through welfare savings.
  • This localised system should also fund any staffing costs currently met through housing benefit, but which will not be eligible to be met through UC under revised service charge eligibility rules – this would include intensive housing management costs. This would mean that, other than in the case of very short-term supported housing, people-based services would be commissioned by local authorities and paid through grant funding, and housing costs would be met through the welfare system.

These revised proposals do not change the principles of the Government’s proposed funding model, but will better help it achieve its objectives of securing supply and strengthening a focus on outcomes and value within the modernised welfare system.

To find out more, you can read the full consultation here.