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Why are some local authorities restricting enhanced Housing Benefit payments to charities & voluntary agency supported housing providers and/or forcing them to apply to become registered providers?

We are beginning to see disappointing examples of some local authorities imposing blanket restricted Enhanced Housing Benefit levels on non-registered provider supported housing (i.e., voluntary organisations and charities). This has nothing to do with matching resources to needs. It’s just crude cost control being exercised at the expense of supported housing and the people it houses and supports.

Introduction

Some months ago, I published a briefing on the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing and predicted, amongst other things, that it might tempt some local authorities to try and restrict the amounts of Enhanced Housing Benefit payable to supported housing providers, and also to try and limit the number of supported housing providers setting up new services.

In respect of the latter point it certainly the case that local authority should commission[1] supported housing that reflects well researched local priorities, and consequently not commission supported housing that doesn’t do so. In addition, local authorities should not commission supported housing that doesn’t generate value[2]. There are too many wrongly motivated people trying to make a quick buck from public money, and we need to see the back of them.

New Developments

In respect of the former point (i.e. restricting Enhanced Housing Benefit) we are beginning to see disappointing examples of some local authorities imposing blanket restricted Enhanced Housing Benefit levels on non-registered provider supported housing (i.e., voluntary organisations and charities). This has nothing to do with matching resources to needs. It’s just crude cost control being exercised at the expense of supported housing and the people it houses and supports. It means that people in non-registered provider supported housing will suffer lower levels of staffing, services and maintenance whilst people with the same additional needs in registered provider owned supported housing generally won’t. This is an iniquitous situation in which peoples’ entitlements to proper levels of service depend on the legal identity of their landlord, which is absurd. This situation must and will be challenged.

The reason that some local authorities are doing this is because they can only fully recover from the Department of Work and Pensions, the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay when the landlord is a registered provider[3]. However, that is not a justification for discriminating against supported housing providers and residents simply because their landlord isn’t a registered provider.

We have seen other examples where local authorities insist that non-registered provider supported housing providers must apply to become registered providers as a condition of being eligible to be commissioned as local supported housing providers via framework agreements and other mechanisms.

This is for the same reason as that which “justifies” the blanket implementation at local level of restricted Enhanced Housing Benefit payments at well below the amounts paid to registered provider supported housing providers. Some local authorities don’t want to lose subsidy on non-registered provider supported housing providers no matter how much value those providers generate and no matter how important their services are.

There may be good reasons for some supported housing providers to apply to the Regulator for registration but enabling a local authority to fully recover Enhanced Housing Benefit subsidy isn’t one of them. I assume that the various UK housing regulators (Housing Benefit being a non-devolved issue) will have a view on this? The English Regulator of Social Housing in particular is currently very cautious about applications for registered provider status from supported housing providers. Did English local authorities talk to the Regulator of Social Housing before putting in place these requirements for registration as a condition of being commissioned locally?

I do understand that local authorities don’t want to lose subsidy as a consequence of regulations that treat different supported housing providers differently depending on whether or not they are registered providers. I don’t understand why those local authorities would choose to reinforce that difference by imposing blanket artificial Enhanced Housing Benefit maxima on non-registered providers and/or insist that such providers become registered providers. This is a myopic exercise in cost control that does nothing to support the development of good quality supported housing and does much to prejudice it.

A Solution

We actually need a wholesale redesign of the system for funding supported housing (see my blog post on this from 2020: https://supportedhousing.blog/2020/06/03/funding-supported-housing) but the wheels of state turn slowly and until we get structural change we need to tinker with the existing system. There is a shorter-term solution to this problem that would enable local authorities to recover the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay in full without trying to force providers down the road of registration or restricting providers to unsatisfactory local Enhanced Housing Benefit maxima. Notwithstanding the fact that the Regulator of Social Housing is likely to rebuff applications for registration made purely on the basis that local authorities need to fully recover Enhanced Housing Benefit.

Please see The Exempt Accommodation Project homepage for more information about the solutions to this problem, then read on below.

Non-registered provider supported housing providers that own or lease their properties should consider leasing such properties to willing registered providers. Typical registered provider/agency relationships are based on arrangements where the registered provider owns the properties and the Management Agreement between the parties reflects that. However, where the provider agency has the legal interest in the property (it owns it or holds the head lease) the Management Agreement should reflect this fact. The Registered provider’s role here is to facilitate the ability of local authorities to fully recover the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay, to ensure the properties concerned are up to the standards expected by the Regulator and to ensure that occupancy agreements are properly administered.

Aside from that, the provider agency can do everything else, including setting the rents and providing the maintenance services. It might want to subcontract maintenance, for example, to the registered provider on an “actual costs” basis but it shouldn’t have to, especially if it has previously maintained its own buildings.

The registered provider in such an arrangement would be paid an admin fee (say £20-£25) per tenant/licensee per week, which is claimable via Enhanced Housing Benefit. This might not be of interest to larger registered providers that have bigger fish to fry (although it might be). What I have in mind are smaller, community-based registered providers that would benefit from what could be quite significant levels of additional revenue. If a non-registered provider leased 50 units of supported housing to a registered provider with an admin fee of £25 per unit per week, that equates to £65,000 per year.

Please get in touch

So, this blog post is an appeal to non-registered providers and community-based registered providers to think about this. We have developed a lease model and a Management Agreement model to reflect these arrangements, so no one is going to have to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, we can handle the revised Enhanced Housing Benefit claims to include the admin fee.

We have plenty of non-registered provider supported housing providers looking for willing registered providers, although we would happily talk to more. What we don’t have are the willing registered providers in sufficient numbers and locations so we are especially interested in hearing from registered providers who may have an interest in this, as well as providers looking for registered provider partners: michael@michaelpatterson.co.uk.


[1] To “commission” a supported housing service doesn’t necessarily mean to fund it as well in this context. It means to approve and/or recognise it as meeting assessed local need.

[2] Value Generation has 3 principles: outcomes for people; cost benefit & wider social/community benefit.

[3] If the landlord is not a registered provider (i.e. a voluntary agency or a charity) the local authority can only recover 60% of the difference between the appropriate Local Housing Allowance rate & the actual rent being charged.

7 replies on “Why are some local authorities restricting enhanced Housing Benefit payments to charities & voluntary agency supported housing providers and/or forcing them to apply to become registered providers?”

Michael,

I have seen this happen recently working with a CIC a local authority refused to have conversations as the HB department had already said they would not cover the rent.
I am now working as Head of Housing with the YMCA North Tyneside we may be interested in this model. I would be interested in a conversation with you about how we could help, although we are based in North Tyneside we also cover other areas.

Morning Michael, many thanks for your post. This has been an on-going problem as you are fully aware. We as a registered Charity have for the past 10 years faced challenges and discrimination due to our legal setting. We have now had three separate tribunals , which we have won in our continuing support of our client group, individuals with a learning disability and or a mental illness to live independently within their own home.

Whilst your suggestion is a “work around” it only add layers of costs and administration burdens to the system and will I feel be challenged as almost contrivance by others.

Michael we have had many discussions on this subject, until we have a full review and agreement, we will continue to face these unnecessary challenges.

Hopefully the Queens speech today will bring some better news.

Kindest.

Denis

Thanks Michael. Most informative. We withdrew our application for RP Status when the old HCA were responsible. The regulatory regime was far too onerous.

Under the new regime of RSH, it appears to me to have a major hole. It requires rents (not service charges) to be below market rent. When you add in the following to the Basic Rent it comes to substantially more than market rent: viz:

Housing management
Management Overheads
Responsive repairs & maintenance – buildings
Planned maintenance – buildings
Buildings Insurance
Sinking Fund
Council Tax
Exterior Décor
Development Costs

Much as we both understand the subsidy reasons why LA’s are pushing for RP status, such blanket refusal must be subject to either Tribunal review or Judicial Review.

With regard for your campaign for value driven policies, I say more power to your elbow. The cynic in my says that under the present administration and tailing the economy after Covid-19, it is going to remain cost driven.

we have to do our best in difficult circumstances.

Best regards
Leonard

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