government’s Supporting People programme aims to improve services for people in
sheltered and supported housing. Ruth Winchester looks at it effects on four
projects caring for vulnerable people.
if social services departments didn’t have enough on their plate already.
Within the next few months whole new teams of staff are going to be appointed
to every local authority to oversee the local implementation of Supporting
People. Some observers suggest that what they are likely to do, in reality, is
get in everyone’s hair.
October, with luck and a following wind, all guidance will be out and all
consultation finished – heralding the change to a more locally-driven element
of the transitional regime. Newly appointed Supporting People teams will ensure
local populations have had essential needs assessments done and that local
supply and demand for support services has been plotted.
decision making structures will also be key to the success of the process,
consisting of core members such as social services, housing, probation and
health. Peripheral, but still included, will be service users, landlords,
service providers and the Housing Corporation. These large multi-agency bodies
will have local control over some of the cash provided as a result of
Supporting People. The necessity for effective joint working is obvious.
as the process has developed, new problems have been identified, as well as new
possibilities for improving conditions for people using sheltered and supported
accommodation. While some argue that the separation of the support element from
bricks and mortar will enable far more people to receive support services,
others are less enthusiastic. And while some of the fears have been laid to
rest, the debate about the size of cash pot at the end of the rainbow – when SP
finally becomes reality in two years time – is still raging.
Haggar is lead officer for Hampshire’s supporting people team. He says that the
demands of the transition to the new regime are becoming "clearer and clearer"
as the process rumbles on. And he insists that Supporting People offers an
enormous opportunity for social services to ensure that funds for support
services continue to be made available by central government. But to reap the
benefits, departments have to ensure that the transitional scheme operates to
has been praised by the government for taking an innovative approach to
accounting which a number of other authorities are looking into. The authority
is identifying any areas of community care support spending which could, in
theory, be covered by the new broader definition of housing benefit – such as
women’s refuges, hostels, night shelters and so on. It is then transferring,
carefully, the costs of those services to housing benefit. The upshot is that
when the support element of housing benefit is calculated by the government,
some of the things traditionally paid for by social services will now be
provided by a different cash fund – freeing up social services massively overspent
budgets for other things.
this ‘creative accounting’ at first sight seems a little irregular, Hampshire
has been highlighted by the DETR as an example of good practice. The
government, it seems, doesn’t mind.
housing for Women
Janet Davies is chief executive of Women’s Pioneer Housing, which was
founded in 1920 to house single women. The association runs more than 1,000
homes in central and west London. The changing needs of residents have meant a
quarter of their stock is now sheltered housing.
says that the association was surprised by the decision to include sheltered
housing in Supporting People. "We know how important it is to maintaining
the independence of older people. It is appreciated by our own tenants but
regarded less favourably by many professionals. We knew of organisations which
had decided that their sheltered housing did not include ‘support’, which will
exclude them from Supporting People funding. This was not an option for us.
Sheltered housing is a major part of our work and older women living alone will
always form a large percentage of London’s population."
how have they dealt with it? Davies argues that while the change was welcome,
the association had relatively little time to assess the impact it might have
on services. "We had to quickly take stock of those that we provide for
sheltered tenants that are covered by housing benefit now, but which we have to
hope will be paid for from the Supporting People pot in the future."
of our sheltered schemes are in an implementation project area, Kensington and
Chelsea," Davies adds. "As a member of the core group there, we have
been able to comment on policy as it is developed by DETR. This has reinforced
our view that providing extra care and facilities in sheltered housing is the
says that while sheltered housing sometimes feels like an afterthought in the
process, their worries are now less about principles than detail. "There
seems to be an assumption that once the size of the ‘pot’ of grant in each
local authority area has been established, it will not change," she adds.
"This is not realistic when your client group’s needs increase over
Pioneer is currently surveying residents with questions on physical and other
support needs. "This will help us to get the right balance of services for
our sheltered housing service," Davies adds, "but finding the funding
may be a greater challenge. The debate over who should be charged for what is
much more complex than it is in supported housing, and the proposals may affect
a lot more people."
worrying is the lack of thought given to other government initiatives, such as
the major changes planned for older people’s health care and the proposed rent
restructure," she adds. "Getting this level of detail right will make
the difference between an imaginative way of delivering services to older
people and just another funding initiative."
Waltham Forest housing association runs supported and sheltered housing for
older people within the London borough. This small organisation has been
particularly affected by Supporting People because more than 50 per cent of
it’s stock is included, and because of it’s size, the load cannot be spread
amongst a number of staff.
Milton is chief executive. "The whole of the benefit system did need some
radical rethinking, but the idea of just taking one small element whilst
boroughs like Waltham Forest were suffering from huge delays in payments of
housing benefit was of great concern to us. If they are unable to cope with the
existing system, how are they going to tackle a completely new grant?"
have they made of the process? "Sheltered housing was the big debate of
Supporting People – should it be supported or not?" Milton explains.
"If you are completing monitoring forms for the Housing Corporation it is
classed as general needs – but for Supporting People purposes, it is supported
housing. With no consistency in the equation, we can’t just fit it into a nice
neat accounting pigeonhole."
is a member of the national steering group of EroSH (Emerging Role of Sheltered
Housing), and says there was a lot of work involved in trying to persuade the
authorities not to include sheltered housing in the equation. However once the
debate about whether sheltered housing should be included had been decided, the
resource implications started to come to the fore.
says: "The local authority initially requested a five page return on all
supported housing stock, asking for detailed breakdowns on the splits in the
service charge which all had to be carried out manually. With schemes varying
between 2 and 46 units, and with a variety of different rents, it was no simple
task. To actually calculate the information was an onerous task, even though we
only work in one borough."
had to carry out detailed monitoring of their work to ensure that the breakdown
of costs was a true reflection of the work carried out. We have now had to
repeat the process with the DETR forms, and whilst some of the work had already
been completed, there were different questions asked and with a new year in
between filling in forms, new charges had to be re-calculated.
us, the administration has been a costly exercise," Milton adds.
"Whilst the government have conceded that there is a cost implication that
is to be subsidised by them to implement Supporting People, what is there for
us? Where are we supposed to get the additional funding from? What other
services have to suffer because of this?"
my point of view as a chief officer, keeping up to date with the latest
developments and keeping staff and board members up to speed has been a
constant concern. Whilst we are still going through the transitional stage, it
has become apparent that we need some form of recognised performance indicators
to ensure that all providers of sheltered housing, no matter what size they
are, are all equally measured."
with mental health problems
Maurice Condie is chief executive of Byker Bridge Housing Association.
Based in Newcastle, the association owns and manages housing and supported
services for vulnerable people, including people with mental health problems,
learning difficulties and drug and alcohol users.
is dubious about the idea that ‘floating support’ is the big advantage offered
by the Supporting People changes. He points to the fact that, while tenancies
are easily obtained in his local area, because of low rents and house prices,
the direct access hostel run by Byker Bridge is massively oversubscribed. It
seems not everyone wants, or is able, to live independently.
fact, Condie argues that where the support on offer to people in their own
homes is inadequate, they become isolated and disillusioned far more quickly
than they would in specialist schemes. "A half hour visit four or five
days a week is not the same as having a full time on-site warden or worker
support, as is available in many specialist schemes".
is calling for an end to the government’s insistence that people must be
independent. A rational approach to providing genuine affordable support will
make Supporting People work, he argues. "Too much haste towards breaking
the link between housing and support will damage a sector that has grown by
demand over recent years".
also points out that the ‘supporting people pot’ will eventually be derived
from a range of pooled funding streams. "These funding streams are
currently used to deliver services at existing supported housing projects that
have tenants living in them," he argues. "This is important to
remember because, unless the fund gains significant new resources, new schemes
and projects will be commissioned at the expense of existing schemes and
he adds, the fund will include money from a variety of schemes. He cites the
probation accommodation grant scheme which funds a number of ex-offender
projects across the country, the support currently available to people through
housing benefit and supported housing management grant (which is supposed to
pay for the extra management cost of running supported housing schemes and
hostels). The supporting people pot will also include home improvement agency
important thing to recognise," Condie warns, "is that all of the
above funding streams were applied to housing. It is dangerous to assume that
Supporting People will permanently sever the link between the provision of
support and the provision of housing. The supporting people programme, we are
informed, is intended to provide housing-related support services and will
undoubtedly play a major role in preventing vulnerable people from becoming
reliant on more expensive, community care based or hospital based services."
with learning difficulties
Stuart Rigg is chief
executive of Advance Housing, which provides longer term housing and support
packages to people with learning difficulties or mental health problems in the
Midlands and south.
“We’ve always been very supportive of the
principles behind Supporting People and indeed very much welcome the
underpinning objectives, such as the move to separate and identify the costs of
the provision of housing, and the provision of support. In terms of principles,
we feel strongly that it is a step forward to move from a system where only a
few people and organisations can understand a very complex system of funding,
to one where the end user will be able to understand.”
“On the subject of rents, it could have the
effect of driving rents down, making them more affordable. At present we have a
system where the inclusive, gross rents are keeping people in benefit
dependency. One of the big possible advantages could be that rents will be
affordable for people who find employment or supported employment, while still
retaining an appropriate level of support.
“Another key factor is that support should be
needs-led, and so should be able to vary over time as people’s support needs
change. Support levels can be varied as required without prejudicing the
security of someone’s accommodation.”
But while Rigg is positive about the
principles, he has some concerns about the practicalities. “There is still a
lot of detail to work through.”
“There are two main things. One is
means-testing. Our feeling is that the potential benefits of separating housing
and support could be undermined if people who move into employment are means
tested on their earned income. Clearly people will still have a need for
support even if they are working.”
“The other is the idea of a fixed pot of money
– the move from a demand-led to a cash-limited system. Where are the resources
for developing new services, if they aren’t going to come from savings in
existing services? Pressure on existing services is going to be intense, which
is inevitably going to have an impact on the people using those services.”