Three-way split on the cards as Supporting People plans unveiled

The Supporting People programme could be split into three separate parts under government proposals unveiled this week.

The long-awaited consultation on the future of the 1.7bn programme suggests that different approaches should be adopted for those needing housing support with care, those needing low-level support, and people needing crisis support.

It argues that different funding arrangements could be adopted for the three groups, with some diverted into councils’ general revenue support grant and some delivered through local area agreements.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said that the document was a genuine consultation about seeking views on how services were best provided.

The document proposes giving more financial freedom to local authorities and delivering services on the basis of the three groups.

It also proposes closer integration of funding for housing support and care for people who need both such as those with severe disabilities, with social care commissioners possibly taking the lead.

For groups needing low-level support such as older people it suggests greater use of individual budgets and direct payments.

It also proposes stronger “incentives” to make sure councils do not overlook their responsibilities to the group needing crisis support, which would include homeless people and women fleeing domestic violence.

It suggests that local area agreements, where funding is linked to agreed outcomes, might be a model for this group, while funding for the other groups may become part of the revenue support grant.

Nigel Rogers, chief executive of supported housing charity Sitra, welcomed parts of the strategy but said there was not enough protection for the most marginalised groups. He also predicted the government would step back from “dismantling” the programme.

The National Housing Federation said the programme’s funding ringfence must remain and that a duty to provide housing support should be introduced.

Meanwhile, the ODPM also launched a consultation this week on a new needs-based distribution formula for the programme.

Officials have stressed that the consultation will cover whether a new formula should be introduced, and say the department is committed to introducing a fairer means of allocating funding.

The strategy commits the government to introduce three-year funding settlements for the programme from 2008-9 but makes no mention of the future overall level of funding. The ODPM will negotiate a new settlement with the Treasury as part of the 2007 spending review.

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