Social landlords are no longer just looking after the bricks and
mortar of their properties. Now they have to take into account all
of a prospective tenant’s needs – and that increasingly
Since the introduction of the Supporting People regime, the
National Service Framework for mental health, measures to tackle
bed-blocking, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and the emphasis
on “joined-up” working, there has been a blurring of the social
care and social housing sectors. It has not been a smooth
transition, but social landlords are now looking outside the bricks
and mortar box.
“Sheltered housing in one form or another has been an expanding
service for many years,” says Local Government Association senior
policy manager Simon Weeks. “It’s about looking at
alternative service models other than simply offering residential
care or nursing homes for people who need a high level of
He points to the recent government initiative to combat
bed-blocking and commitments in the last comprehensive spending
review to boost supported housing. The targets set in public
service agreements and planning guidance after the review have
given the sector something to aim for and the means to achieve it,
This has led to more co-operation between social services and
housing departments. “It’s absolutely essential,” Weeks says.
“Authorities have to work on a three-year rolling programme and
there are issues of planning permission and getting the homes
built. What often happens is the social care people will be working
on a needs analysis of how many people are coming through the
system that will need supported housing and feeding that into the
Such collaboration will often provide information that planners
may not necessarily be privy to, such as people with learning
difficulties who are nearly 18 and will need a home.
As councils move away from providing traditional care homes due
to a lack of resources to meet higher standards, housing
associations and councils are working in partnership. Access to
Housing Corporation cash has become a driver in this.
Diane Henderson, National Housing Federation head of care
support, says: “Housing has been picked up as an important element
in health and care and we are starting to see ourselves as the
third partner in that partnership.
“Whether that is approaching long-term accommodation for people
with health and care needs, intermediate non-hospital short-term
accommodation or helping someone move back into their own
But bringing together two disciplines that have in the past been
quite distant has its problems. The differing argots of social care
and social housing can be difficult to overcome.
“We have all got our different jargons and that can sometimes be
a barrier,” Henderson says. “But we are starting to interpret each
Sam Lister, Chartered Institute of Housing policy officer, says
the barrage of initiatives and funding streams can be a bother.
Supporting People – which is intended to cover support only and not
care – is a case in point. As the regime prepared to go live last
year, the message boards of housing websites reverberated with
pleas for advice from people who could not understand how the
government differentiated between the two.
And it goes further than that. Lister says: “There are schemes
where people need support for independent living but also need care
so it is inevitable that a proportion of the Supporting People
money goes into joint-funded schemes. The challenge is to put
policy into practice.”
But the nature of joint funding and the sheer variety of
initiatives are a further challenge. “There is a slight case of
initiative-itis,” Henderson says. “There’s a strategy or a
plan or a framework for everything.” She points to recent Social
Exclusion Unit guidance for dealing with people with mental health
problems, which will have to combine with Department of Health
initiatives and “various other government-funded bodies”.
Weeks points to another perennial problem in meeting the
government’s social care objectives – finding the staff. “A
lot of parts of the country have recruitment and retention problems
for care staff and home care staff,” he says. “And it’s
largely home care staff who are needed in these supported housing
The developing relationship between social housing and social
care reflects a growing awareness among landlords that they have a
wider role to play than managing their stock. This awareness has
been prompted not just by the government’s care agenda, but
it is central to the urban regeneration agenda too.
“We are looking at being neighbourhood players, not just bricks
and mortar,” Henderson says. “To do that we need to be wise as to
who else is in the area, who else provides services and what the
local priorities are.”
Case study 1
The Children (Leaving Care) Act of 2000 placed a new
responsibility on local authorities to ensure care leavers have
enough support for the transition into adulthood.
The London Borough of Redbridge’s work in this field –
cited in a good practice handbook co-authored by David Woods,
development manager of homelessness charity Centrepoint – has won
approval as a care-leaving strategy. Schemes such as its Bathurst
Road residential unit offer two levels of move-on accommodation for
care leavers. Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a
week on the ground floor, with self-contained flats on the top
floor for those able to support themselves. The scheme was
initiated by the housing department after learning from social
services that care leavers experienced difficulties finding
All care leavers are assessed and housed as closely according to
their needs as resources allow, chief children and families officer
Patrick Power says. The council keeps in touch in case problems
emerge. Recently Power has had to help a care leaver at university
who wants to return to his foster home at the end of term.
“It’s all about putting the young person’s needs
first wherever we can,” he says.
Case study 2
The Anchor Trust housing association’s integrated care and
housing schemes for older people are seen by many as a potential
solution to the NHS bed-blocking crisis.
The schemes offer a combination of sheltered housing with a
dedicated care team and independent living.
Barbara Laing director of trust subsidiary Anchor Homes, says:
“There is real potential for supporting hospital discharges and
“We could provide for a person when they come out of hospital
while their home is being made ready for them, having bathroom
adaptations and handrails fitted. That would free up a hospital
The schemes – the latest being in a converted animal feed mill
in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire – are all run in partnership with
local authorities and part-funded by grants from the Housing
Although the trust – its chief executive John Belcher sat on a
government bed-blocking task force – does have a small intermediate
care unit for hospital leavers in Westminster, Laing believes
integrated housing and care is the way forward.
“It has a huge contribution to make,” she says.
“But it’s still at the stage of trying to get people to
make it real.”
Case study 3
After noting a high rate of tenancy failures among under-25s,
Cardiff Council housing officer Alan Setterfield linked with the
authority’s Supporting People-funded tenant support team to
combat the problem.
Setterfield wrote a leaflet based on the issues that he and the
rest of the housing team had identified as causing problems for
younger tenants. It includes information on holding down a tenancy
and basic life skills such as how to arrange gas and electricity
The leaflet’s aims straddle care and housing: to prevent
young first-time tenants losing their homes, reduce the number of
abandoned council homes and help to stabilise communities that can
become blighted by large numbers of boarded-up properties.
Housing officers give the leaflet to all new council tenants
under 25 when they collect their keys. Support workers and child
care social workers also use the leaflets which are available in
the city’s housing advice centre.
“Since we started using the leaflet the number of tenancy
failures for people under the age of 25 has halved,” a council