Spend now or get less next year

Gary Vaux explains why it makes sense to maximise housing
benefit over the next year.

In less than two years time, Supporting People takes over the
funding of support costs – are the key elements being put in

Supporting People begins in earnest in April 2003. This pot of
money will be used to fund support costs in a vast range of
supported and sheltered accommodation. At present, some of that
cost is being met through housing benefit – specifically, the
transitional housing benefit scheme (THBS), in place since April

The aim of Supporting People is to improve the strategic
planning of supported accommodation – only schemes that meet
specific criteria will get funding, instead of the “demand-led”
method that currently exists. But, whatever the grandiose rationale
is for Supporting People, the THBS is the real key to success of
the new arrangements.

This is because the amount of money that will be put into
Supporting People in 2003, and the distribution of that money, will
be largely determined by how much transitional housing benefit is
spent on support costs in the next year. Put crudely – the more
housing benefit is paid out for support costs in your area this
year, the more you will have to allocate in 2003.

Supporting People encompasses support for a vast range of
vulnerable groups and individuals – care-leavers, people with
mental health problems or learning difficulties, substance
misusers, ex-offenders, tenants of sheltered housing and so on. The
“support” that can be funded includes lifeskills training,
counselling, budgeting, helping with claim forms, even shopping and
errand-running in sheltered housing.

When, in 2003, housing benefit is stripped back to only cover
basic “rent” costs, then your local Supporting People pot needs to
be big enough to make-up the shortfall. And the only way you can
make sure of that is to maximise housing benefit over the next year
or so.

Is maximising happening? So far, the signs are not good. I am
still hearing of housing benefit teams who are taking a very hard
line on allowing support costs to be included within the rent,
especially when those support costs begin to go up above the
£40 to £50 per week mark. The Department of Social
Security has issued guidance on a number of occasions, strongly
“advising” local teams to be flexible but some still haven’t taken
the hint.

In other areas, I have heard about social services departments
who are still funding “care packages” that could be incorporated
into the tenant’s rent and met by housing benefit.

We also hear about private tenants who could be funded under the
THBS but who are missing out. In order to get their support costs
met through housing benefit, private tenants have to get “community
care assessments” from social services. This can be very cumbersome
and lead to inconsistencies. They may have substantial need for
help with budgeting and social skills but are not seen as
“disabled” as far as community care assessments are concerned.

The DSS agreed last year that the assessment need not be the
full or detailed kind that social services would normally do when
considering services. This led to a simplified pro-forma being
devised, which your local housing benefit service should be

Supporting People involves, a bureaucratic process. Whole new
committees have to be established, commissioning and reviewing
arrangements set up, and so on, irrespective of whether you have
£5 or £5 million to allocate.

Most local authorities are making a real effort at getting ready
for Supporting People – it would be sad if this was undermined by
there simply not being enough money in the pot for them to

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