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Grantham Journal column: There are huge risks attached to plan to alter care funding

Charmaine Morgan. 803D ENGEMN00120131016144131
Charmaine Morgan. 803D ENGEMN00120131016144131

During this week’s meeting of Lincolnshire County Council’s communities and public health scrutiny committee, officers advised councillors that fundamental changes to future funding of supported housing schemes are under public consultation.

The timeframe allowed for feedback is very short. It is proposed that plans will be implemented in April 2019.

The Government has revisited the benefit system after local authorities raised major concerns over a lack of consideration regarding supported and sheltered housing.

Fundamental changes to future funding of supported housing schemes are now planned by the Government, which proposes to integrate recent welfare reform with how residents in supported accommodation receive or pay their rent.

The proposals will affect thousands of our most vulnerable people, including elderly residents, people with disabilities, those living in temporary homeless accommodation, domestic violence shelters and those supporting people with learning disabilities and mental health issues. This has future potential ramifications for us all.

At present, those in receipt of housing benefit receive funds that pay for rent, combined with the specialised care services offered by their landlord.

There is speculation that some supported housing landlords have been overcharging for their services.

Under proposals, the amount allocated for rent will be split from the amount allocated for care.

The Government will set aside additional funds to cover care costs, which will be distributed to local authorities to spend as they believe appropriate.

In theory, the proposal gives more control to local authorities over how funds are spent. In practice, however, there are huge risks.

The Government has a track record of handing responsibility for services over to local authorities and then underfunding the services. Public health is just one example.

It is not clear therefore that the budget set aside for care will be adequate, or how it will be distributed nationally or locally.

Secondly, the negotiation between local authorities and individual landlords required will be complicated, creating uncertainty and insecurity.

At worst, if the landlords do not believe the amounts offered are viable, they could opt not to provide sheltered housing, or they may opt to provide services using the amount available only to subsequently find the situation unsustainable.

Landlords will be competing with each other for a share of the ‘care pot’. We are left with some serious questions.

What will happen to vulnerable service users should no agreement be found? How will those living in short-term and temporary accommodation be catered for?

The National Housing Federation has already raised concerns with the Government which have not had an adequate response in relation to housing benefit impact on those in supported housing.

While the Government has delayed the housing benefit cap for one year for those in sheltered schemes, it may not cover even the basic rental element required.

What help will be provided for those unable to understand the changes and manage the financial ramifications should there be a shortfall in their income as a result?

According to a county council report, the provision of care offered by combined local authority and privately-run schemes saves the NHS £3.5billion a year.

With a growing elderly population, we need more housing schemes like these, not proposals that create insecurity, uncertainty and potentially undermine existing supported housing services.

The Government is currently consulting on the proposals. It is vitally important that those affected, or concerned, have their say now.

The public consultation is available online here.

If you are not online, or need help, you are welcome to contact me on 07398 156296 to put forward your views by February 6.

A green paper will be produced and further opportunity to comment provided before the changes are launched in April 2019.

Learning Disability England have produced a simplified version of the document and is also seeking responses from those with learning disabilities.

It can be viewed online at www.housingandsupport.org.uk

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