Make allowances

One of the most peculiar parts of the benefits system concerns people who live in group homes and hostels that are provided by social services departments. The residents are often people with mental health needs or learning difficulties who do not need residential care. They are quite capable of living within the community in supported accommodation (and that support is sometimes quite minimal, particularly in group homes).

Many local authorities in the past 20 years or so realised that a broader range of accommodation options was required for these clients. Traditional residential homes were therefore converted to hostels and group homes. Most have been highly successful. As personal care is generally not provided, such accommodation falls outside the remit of regulation.

However, I heard recently from a manager of such a hostel, which is still under local authority (social services) control. It came as a surprise to the manager to discover that residents were not able to claim the care component of disability living allowance and could only receive the mobility element. This was a particular concern as some residents were already getting DLA (care) and also an increase in income support that follows on from this.

The basic situation is that social services departments have only one legal power under which to directly supply accommodation – the National Assistance Act 1948. Technically, therefore, all directly-provided group homes and hostels are “Part III” NAA accommodation. However, the rules regarding income support and housing benefit were amended many years ago, so that such residents were not treated as living in a care home. Residents in hostels and group homes where board is not provided or is only provided on a “pay as you eat” basis can claim ordinary income support and housing benefit.

Unfortunately, the same concession was never applied to the rules for attendance allowance and DLA (care). This creates a situation whereby residents in local authority-owned group homes and hostels are treated the same as Part III residents and are automatically refused attendance allowance/DLA (care) so long as social security realises the type of accommodation used.

However, residents or tenants in voluntary sector hostels and group homes with identical living arrangements to those in local authority-run schemes still have access to DLA (care) and the additional income support. This is because the accommodation is not classed as Part III (as it isn’t owned by the local authority), so long as it is not registered as residential accommodation under the relevant legislation.

This is clearly anomalous. Some local authorities have tried imaginative measures such as transferring the properties to housing departments (only possible in unitary authorities), thus taking them out of the scope of the National Assistance Act. Others have looked to transfer the homes to the voluntary sector. However, the simplest solution would be for the Department for Work and Pensions to simply realise the anomaly that has been created and allow the same concession for DLA/attendance allowance as applies to income support and housing benefit.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care.

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