Letter to Brandon Lewis regarding the introduction of Local Housing Allowance to the Social Housing sector

Please find below the content of the letter to Brandon Lewis regarding the introduction of Local Housing Allowance to the Social Housing sector sent January 5th 2016.

The response can be downloaded here: Response 29th Feb 2016.pdf

Dear Mr. Lewis,

The Housing and Support Alliance (H&SA) is a national membership organisation representing nearly 200 Local Authorities, Housing Providers, Support Providers, Advocacy Groups, People with Learning Disabilities and their families.

All our members are involved in the use, commissioning, and provision of supported living services. Between them they are responsible for providing a significant proportion of all the supported living services in the country.

Our members are particularly concerned about the introduction of Local Housing Allowance (LHA), proposed in the Spending Review and Autumn Statement, to the Social Housing sector and the specific effect it will have on housing with care and support, particularly (but by no means exclusively) for those under 35 who may be limited to the shared accommodation rate while needing self contained accommodation.

Many of our members provide supported housing under the current Housing Benefit rules for specified accommodation (including exempt accommodation) and, separately, excluded tenancies.They need to do this for the following reasons:

  • To cover purchase, lease, adaptation, maintenance and/or development costs
  • The need for extra rooms and /or space
  • The need to live in a specific, possibly higher cost, area
  • The need for higher quality housing
  • To meet much higher intensive housing management costs than are normally required
  • To meet the much higher voids costs than are normally required
  • The need to provide special design, assistive technology or equipment features
  • To meet the costs of increasing regulatory and compliance responsibilities particular to this group of tenants – eg more frequent electrical safety certificates, asbestos, legionella and fire risk assessments.
  • It should be emphasised that in all cases our social housing provider members aim to initially set their rents at, or less than, Rent Standard levels. Only when that is impossible, and for the reasons outlined above, they are able to set rents under the specified and excluded regulations, which allow such essential and reasonable housing costs over LHA rates to be covered by Housing Benefit. This ensures vulnerable people with support needs have their corresponding housing needs met where there is no cheaper, suitable alternative accommodation available.

    We are therefore seeking confirmation that all new tenancies under these regulations will be exempt from the current LHA proposals. We understand that consideration is being given to making available additional Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) but this would be wholly inadequate because of the discretionary and temporary nature of these payments. In the absence of clear central guidance local decisions on whether or not to make payments may be inconsistently applied and officers in some areas may not have the necessary commissioning knowledge and experience in relation to the specific housing needs of disabled people to make appropriate decisions. Additionally, tenants would not be able to rely on any payments that were made and would live under the constant threat of homelessness should they be reduced or withdrawn.

    Specialist landlords such as our members would not be able to offer urgently needed new tenancies because they could not be sure that the rent would be paid through Housing Benefit. Some of our members have been able to access private finance to provide the capital for new housing - this would cease under DHPs because private investors would see the level of risk of the rent not being paid as unacceptable.

    Therefore the result of replacing statutory entitlement to adequate Housing Benefit levels with DHPs will, beginning immediately and then increasing over a phased period, gradually make it impossible for social housing providers to continue to meet the on-going housing, support and care needs of a wide group of vulnerable people who have a statutory right to have those needs met as their essential and reasonable costs will rise above income. That right is outlined in the Care Act, which specifically requires housing and social care authorities to work together to ensure the wellbeing of those eligible for services under the Act.

    New developments, including accommodation under the Transforming Care programme, a governmental commitment to provide personalised housing and support solutions to people with complex needs currently living in hospitals, will not be able to be delivered. In relation to Transforming Care especially, the current lack of adequate capital input will mean that housing costs will need to be met from rental revenue, and at a rate that will need to exceed Local Housing Allowance rates in most instances.

    Since all claimants whose tenancies start after 1st April 2016 will have their entitlements restricted (albeit not until implementation in April 2018) it is therefore likely that many schemes currently in the development pipeline will be put on hold (we know this is happening in some cases already) until providers have more certainty about the viability of the long term funding position. This will have significant consequences for large numbers of vulnerable people including, for example, many people with learning disabilities or mental health issues who will be forced to remain in inappropriate residential settings, contrary to government policy and acknowledged best practice, not to mention the wishes and needs of the people themselves.

    In the longer term, as people move on from current supported living arrangements as their needs change, currently available accommodation will be lost to new tenants who will not be able to claim enough Housing Benefit for the full rent required.

    Finally, there is an on-going DCLG/DWP review of supported housing supply, demand, costs, regulations and processes (including the provision of exempt accommodation and excluded tenancies) in train at the moment. It is looking to report its findings and recommendations for change to Ministers in March. The outcome of this project will be seriously undermined if exempt accommodation and excluded tenancies are not excepted, at least until it reports, from the introduction of Local Housing Allowance for social housing, as that decision will not have been taken in the wider context of the review.I would be happy to provide any further detail and information you may require, and look forward to your reply.

    Yours sincerely,

    Steve Harris

    On behalf of H&SA’s membership

    Steve Harris,
    Lead Advisor, Housing and Support Alliance

    To download the letter please click below:
    letter to Brandon Lewis - 05.01.2016 (2).pdf
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