Anger over ‘cost-shunting’ claims as review scrutinises programme costs

Suspicions of “cost-shunting” within the Supporting People
programme have been confirmed by a review into the spiralling costs
of the scheme.

The government review concludes that there is “strong
circumstantial evidence” that councils have been using the
programme to finance services that used to be funded by health and
social services budgets.

But local authorities, housing associations and other agencies
providing services to allow vulnerable people to live in their own
homes breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister revealed a budget of £1.8bn for the next
financial year.

Serious budget cuts had been expected when the ODPM announced the
review in October after it was forced to increase the Supporting
People budget for 2003-4 from £1.4bn to £1.8bn.

The review has found wide variations in costs between local
authorities and concludes that £1.8bn was “too much to pay”
last year to cover housing-related support services that were
funded previously through other grants and benefits. One-fifth of
authorities accounted for 30 per cent of the total Supporting
People budget last year.

To coincide with the review launch, the ODPM announced that local
authorities will have to make efficiency savings of 2.5 per cent
during the next financial year and that the Audit Commission will
be conducting detailed inspections of some of those local
authorities with highest unit costs.

Review author Eugene Sullivan recommends that further reductions
are made in funds for existing services in 2005-6 and 2006-7 to
allow for the development of new services.

Sitra, an organisation providing support to voluntary groups and
housing associations that manage supported housing, says the
government’s funding announcement is a “minor victory of sorts” but
also urges caution.

“Supporting People was always going to be a programme of change and
improvement which would deliver savings in other welfare budgets,”
says director Nigel Rogers, who was also on the review’s advisory

“It is important that everyone, including government, keep their
focus on this aim, and are not distracted by short-term financial
considerations. The sector still needs a stable, long-term
framework -Êand it hasn’t got one yet.”

Joe Halewood, managing director of Housing Support Management, a
supported housing-only consultancy which advises more than 90
providers, shares these concerns about budgetary obsessions and
describes the 76-page review as a “whitewash” that fails to provide
answers to many of the concerns about Supporting People.

“The implications of this whitewash of a report are too
far-reaching to tell at this stage but this is likely to be an
important document in how Supporting People is to go forward and
that’s not just a shame, it’s a disgrace,” Halewood says.

“The omissions are plentiful. It fails to challenge the fact that
the greater-than-anticipated increase was due to a woefully failing
original estimate. The review was written to appease Treasury bean
counters. It will lead to less choice, less provision, and more

In the review, Sullivan highlights the acknowledgement by
Supporting People managers that services now funded by Supporting
People include elements bankrolled previously by councils’ social
services and housing departments and the NHS.

But Halewood is angered by the finger of blame for the overspend
being pointed at social services departments. In particular, he
feels it is unfair that the high unit costs for provision for some
people with learning difficulties and mental health problems have
been singled out by Sullivan for criticism, while the failings of
the ODPM have been largely ignored.

“This is a carve-up that seeks to blame adult learning disability
and mental health providers, including social services directors,
and frankly it’s disgraceful that this area is singled out for
blame when no blame directly or indirectly is given to other
providers of services for groups such as offenders, domestic
violence victims or any other allegedly homogeneous client group.

“The outrageous treatment of services for adult learning
difficulties and mental health client groups and providers is
offensive and tantamount to abuse. No blame is levelled at the ODPM
for making the eligibility criteria so woolly and vague that any
service could be funded, and for constantly alluding to tightened
definitions of eligibility under Supporting People without
revealing what these criteria are.”

Halewood says the notion of capping funding, put forward in the
report, would prevent many people with learning difficulties and
mental health problems from attempting independent living and force
them instead into registered care provision. He warns that the
recommendations could even lead to more bed-blocking within the

Tina Graves, a housing services manager with the East Suffolk
branch of mental health charity Mind, has concerns that this year’s
budget combined with the cost of inflation could amount to a
shortfall in her allocation, which the organisation has no way of
making up.

She believes partnerships between health and social care services
and the providers of housing-related support would be one way to
move forward.

“Contracts for the delivery of housing-related support need to be
negotiated in some sort of partnership arrangement with the funders
of the rest of the support package – that is social care and health
services – and be based on the needs of the user of the service,”
she says.

Kathleen Boyle, an independent consultant on Supporting People,
admits there are “difficult times ahead and difficult issues to
face”. She says it might come down to social services departments
finding the money to cover the shortfall for some high-cost

“If you have a service that’s really crucial to both social
services and Supporting People and it’s going to lose some of its
funding then somebody has to pick up the bill,” Boyle says.

“If social services just say that it’s impossible for them to pick
it up then we don’t get much further.

“I don’t think it would be reasonable for social services to expect
the Supporting People budget to find all the savings to allow all
high-cost services provided previously by social services to
continue. Someone has to pay and we can’t just reduce the unit
costs of those high-cost services because they have such high
staffing levels.”

Clare Tickell, chief executive of Stonham Housing Association,
England’s largest provider of housing and care to vulnerable and
socially excluded adults, says: “I don’t think that talking about
cost-shunting is particularly helpful. It’s not as if people have
been running off and setting up offshore accounts. It was a
demand-led uncapped pot of money and now it’s definitely capped.”

 Review of the Supporting People Programme from   

Supporting People

The Supporting People programme was introduced in April 2003 to
provide support services to a wide range of vulnerable

The fund was intended to cover the housing-related support services
element of any service previously funded by the supported housing
management grant, the former Department of Social Security
resettlement grant, transitional housing benefit, the probation
accommodation grant, the home improvement agency grant, the
unpooled housing revenue and large-scale voluntary transfer grant,
and income support or jobseekers allowance.

Although many of these old support grants were linked to particular
properties, Supporting People severed the link between support and
housing tenure and allows for more “floating support” to be
provided, enabling people to live more independently.

More than 6,000 service providers and 150 local authorities are
involved in Supporting People, providing services for more than one
million individuals.

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