Categories
Finance & Funding

The Consultation on Rent Capping & Enhanced Housing Benefit

As you’re doubtless aware the Regulator for Social Housing is currently consulting on the introduction of a core rent increase of 3%, 5% or 7% for social housing. The consultation is here.

The reason for the consultation is the significant increase in the rate of inflation in circumstances where social housing core rents can currently be annually increased by CPI +1%. If CPI is around 10%-11% or more, then a core rent rise of this magnitude is unsupportable by the great majority of mainstream social housing tenants. Many would argue that any core rent rise is unsupportable by many social housing tenants.

What is significant, to me at least, about this consultation is that supported housing is not exempt from the cap, and that supported housing is expected to meet the definition of “low-cost rental accommodation” (e.g., homes let at Social Rent or Affordable Rent). 

The Regulator hasn’t entirely closed the door on exempting supported housing from the proposed cap, much depends on your responses to the consultation. If you have supported housing stock, please do respond to the Consultation and set out clearly the implications of core rent capping for your schemes.

When rent convergence was introduced back in 2010, the Regulator (then known as the Housing Corporation) seemingly omitted to consider supported housing before deciding to give supported/sheltered housing 10% leeway on the core rent convergence figure, which is not a realistic reflection of the additional core rent costs of supported housing.

Assuming that the Regulator is limiting its focus to the core rent, not the gross rent, when putting together enhanced Housing Benefit claims for supported (and some sheltered) housing we must offset the core rent costs in excess of the allowed amount into the service charge in order to conform with core rent compliance. This would make a mockery of the core rent compliance requirements were it not for the fact that it’s already a mockery in the context of supported housing, because the core rent costs of supported housing routinely exceed the allowable core rent amount, even with the 10% leeway. If the Regulator wishes to cap the gross rent for supported housing, then we have a big problem.

I am currently involved in supporting RP clients to respond to demands from the Regulator for Social Housing that RPs structure (specialised) supported housing rents at “social levels”. In so doing they say that for supported housing to be deemed as “social” it must comply with section 69 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, this is even though Specialised Supported Housing is supposedly exempt from the Rent Standard entirely. Again, in this context, the Regulator hasn’t clarified whether it means the core rent or the gross rent.

Furthermore, I was told by a social impact investor that the Regulator for Social Housing had told them that “exempt rents will be beyond our regulatory scope”. Again, do they mean only Specialised Supported Housing, within which the core rent is effectively unrestricted, or do they mean all types of supported housing where the gross rent levels routinely exceed “low cost/social rent” levels?

If they’re referring to the gross rent, what this means is that the Regulator for Social Housing does not regard supported housing in receipt of exempt rents to be “social housing”. For RPs that have accommodation that is deemed to be “social housing” as well as supported housing with exempt rents, this shouldn’t make a difference to enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements as they’re regulated organisations with regulated occupancy agreements. In fact, the removal of inappropriate regulatory demands from supported housing providers could be helpful. However, for RPs that only have “exempt rent” supported and sheltered housing, they face the potential prospect of being told they don’t have any “social housing” and will therefore be subject to deregistration with a significant threat to their enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements. If this does occur the Exempt Accommodation Project may be able to help. Please contact me about this.

Enhanced Housing Benefit.

Whilst the position of the Regulator for Social Housing on supported housing and exempt rents is at best ambivalent, it is nonetheless important for RP and non-RP providers of supported (and some sheltered[1]) housing to review their enhanced Housing Benefit claims, especially in the light of surging energy costs that equate to around 70% of the inflation rate. Energy costs are a service charge cost, not a core rent cost. 

Similarly, maintenance and repair costs are increasingly expensive. To the extent to which this is an issue for mainstream social housing, which it definitely is, it’s a huge issue for supported and sheltered housing. The opportunity to try and offset at least some of the increased maintenance and repair costs through a revised enhanced Housing Benefit claim is important to take.

As you may know, we work with Danny Key on larger enhanced Housing Benefit projects and only charge if we are successful in increasing your enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements (we charge a percentage of the increase we achieve, payable only when you are in receipt of the increased amounts, and payable over a period of up to 12 months).

It is increasingly difficult for supported housing providers that don’t work with RPs to negotiate enhanced Housing Benefit claims. If you’re in this situation the Exempt Accommodation Project may be able to help if you’re a local authority approved provider. The Exempt Accommodation Project is very busy now, and we are always looking for community-based RPs to work with us on this whilst they develop a leasehold portfolio and an attractive revenue stream. Please contact me directly about this.

Supported housing providers who want help with enhanced Housing Benefit claims, with or without an RP, please contact revenue@michaelpatterson.co.uk. If you have Danny’s contact details and you go direct to him, please cc revenue@michaelpatterson.co.uk and let Danny know you’re contacting him having read this briefing.

  1. Where the landlord provides care, support & supervision that is “more than minimal”.
Categories
Policy

The Problems with Exempt Accommodation

Background

Back in 2005 the primary revenue funding stream for supported housing was “Supporting People funding”, a £1.8 billion UK wide funding pot that had been rolled out two years earlier but was already retrenching markedly. Supported housing providers were struggling to cope with revenue reductions after having been encouraged to grow their services by the government of the day, which then immediately set about restricting the Supporting People revenue upon which those schemes depended.

It was at that time that I and a few others identified a means of offsetting some of that revenue loss. We identified the existence of the Exempt Accommodation rules, an arcane set of regulations that entitled agencies that complied with them to claim enhanced levels of Housing Benefit for providing certain housing related services to people with additional needs. I reinvented the term “intensive housing management” to describe those services and set about promoting the Exempt Accommodation rules, enhanced Housing Benefit, and intensive housing management to the supported housing sector. Over 15 years later, enhanced Housing Benefit has become the primary funding stream for supported housing totalling around £1 billion per year.

Problems?

I hope you’ll forgive me for taking pride in having been instrumental in creating that £1 billion revenue pot. However, in addition to a sense of pride I also have a sense of intense anger at the fact that the Exempt Accommodation rules have been roundly abused by organisations and individuals that have made massive amounts of money, and still do, through the wholesale financial abuse of people with additional needs.

Housing Benefit, whether enhanced or not, is a personal benefit. This personal benefit is being diverted into the pockets of dubiously motivated people on an industrial scale.

To qualify your tenants for enhanced Housing Benefit you must be an “exempt landlord”: put simply; a “housing association”, a charity or voluntary organisation.

The Exempt Accommodation rules were devised in 1996 to prevent ill motivated private landlords from robbing the Housing Benefit system by providing poor quality bed-and-breakfast accommodation to homeless people and charging the local authority a fortune for it. The government of the day introduced the Exempt Accommodation rules to restrict private landlords to Local Reference Rent levels (now known as Local Housing Allowance). Certain landlords, identified above, were exempt from those rent levels, so exempt landlords could claim enhanced levels of Housing Benefit.

What has happened since enhanced Housing Benefit became a major revenue stream is that certain individuals have abused the system by setting up allegedly exempt landlord structures, which are nothing more than badly motivated private businesses masquerading as exempt accommodation compliant supported housing providers.

These businesses are exploiting the Exempt Accommodation rules to use them for the very opposite purpose for which they were intended, which was to prevent, not enable, the abuse of peoples’ Housing Benefit entitlements.

But it’s not just dubious supported housing providers, which milk the system and provide poor quality accommodation and minimal or non-existent services that are the problem. Commercial greed has affected the entire supported housing ecosystem.

Private Capital

Don’t get me wrong here; I absolutely believe that private capital is essential for the development of new supported housing schemes. Whether you fund supported housing, commission supported housing, deliver it, or measure its quality you need to do so according to a set of principles. A few years ago, I devised “Value Generation” as this set of principles:

  • Outcomes for people (qualitatively measured)
  • Cost benefit to the public purse (quantitatively measured)
  • Wider social and community benefit (qualitatively and quantitatively measured)

So, if you don’t generate value you shouldn’t be involved in supported housing.

Just as many supported housing providers do a brilliant job for people with additional needs, some private capital providers do the same thing. To get an idea of what I mean you could do worse than to book onto our free virtual supported housing conference 2022. One of the sessions will be led by Assetz Exchange, which acquires and leases property for supported housing and whose investors can expect a yield of in the region of 5%, which is entirely reasonable and is an exercise in Value Generation.

By comparison, I’m aware of other private capital providers who think that 9%, 10%, 12% or 15% yields are reasonable and some of which would think nothing of using dubious valuation methodologies as a means of inflating the property lease cost for enhanced Housing Benefit claim purposes. Often the only value being generated in such examples is financial value to investors and shareholders at the expense of services for people with additional needs, who are supposed to be the point of and the priority for supported housing.

The Invasion of the Supported Housing Ecosystem & the Response to it

Many of the money motivated private capital providers have made common cause with equally money motivated registered providers, which in turn work with supported housing provider agencies that take on the identity of CICs and other allegedly non-profit structures.

This has led to an invasion of the supported housing ecosystem by people and organisations who know how to play the system for financial gain.

This influx of the uninvited has led to significant pressure on local authorities and enhanced Housing Benefit. Alleged supported housing providers, whether connected to dubiously motivated private capital or not, have popped up all over the place, usually in the form of a CIC, and demanded enhanced Housing Benefit for alleged supported housing services that no one asked them to provide.

One of the consequences of this is the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing, published by the UK government (England only) in October 2020, which tells local authorities to restrict the number of new supported housing “market entrants”, to restrict the payment of enhanced Housing Benefit (without actually using those words) and exhorts commissioners and revenues and benefits teams to work together in the administration of enhanced Housing Benefit.

“Inside Housing” magazine continues to run an information campaign on the uncontrolled growth of exempt accommodation. Thea Raisbeck on behalf of Commonweal Housing and Spring Housing published “Exempt From Responsibility?“, which focuses in particular on Birmingham; an outlier in exempt accommodation abuse with 22,000 exempt accommodation bed spaces. Many of these are in poor quality housing within which negligible or no services are provided, but which attract high levels of enhanced Housing Benefit. Where does that money go, I wonder?

But it’s not just Birmingham, bad though the situation is there. The MHCLG (now the DLUHC) set up five exempt accommodation pilots in Birmingham, Hull, Bristol, Blackburn and Blackpool all of which are exempt accommodation “hotspots”. Those pilots recently reported.

The “Supported Housing Oversight Pilots” evaluation report is heavily qualified methodologically and contains a plea for more funding for further evaluation. This wish appears to have been partially met by the UK government’s recent announcement of £20m towards a Supported Housing Improvement Programme.

The report recommends that “care, support and supervision” (an Exempt Accommodation rule criterion) should be defined and that regulations around rent levels and subsidy rules should be reviewed. The temptation to use this as a means of exercising cost control rather than Value Generation must be resisted. It might sound a bit “old hat” of me to say that investment in preventative services such as supported housing saves a fortune in otherwise avoidable statutory interventions, but it’s still true. The point should be to deny revenue to dodgy operators, not restrict revenue to good ones.

The report also reflects the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing in saying that local authorities should be able to intervene to stop new supported housing supply where it is unnecessary or of poor quality. Many local authorities have set up “gateway” arrangements which prospective supported housing providers have to go through, rather than just setting up and applying for enhanced Housing Benefit.

Rather confusingly, the report claims that “local authorities’ oversight of support is currently limited by existing regulation….”. It seems to me that there is a distinct difference between regulation on the one hand (and the supported housing sector has several regulators) and oversight on the other, which pretty much doesn’t exist. In my view, ALL supported housing providers should be subject to local accreditation as they were during the Supporting People initiative. No accreditation should mean no funding.

Oversight should be based on an independently developed and implemented oversight system based on Value Generation principles.

Given the prominence of some registered providers in what has become the exempt accommodation industry, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) in England has sanctioned several exempt accommodation registered providers. The modus operandi of some of those registered providers is to use associated private companies to charge large amounts of money often for unspecified services to supported housing providers (both good and bad) that work as their agents. Let’s do the maths here; if for example, a registered provider has 5000 agency managed bed spaces and an associated private company charges 10% of the rent roll to those agencies (for unspecified services that may not be provided), given an average weekly enhanced Housing Benefit charge of, say, £200 a week, it’s making £5.2 million per year. Where is this money going?

Thus far the RSH has claimed it has no control over third party organisations associated with registered providers, even in circumstances of apparent “disguised profit”. However, that is about to change as a consequence of legislative changes to sections 107, 108, 203 and 208 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which will give the RSH “look through” powers to demand that registered providers explain where money that has left the regulated sector has gone, and not before time.

The UK government DLUHC is currently conducting an Inquiry into Exempt Accommodation. You can see my submission to that enquiry here. The thrust of my submission is that Exempt Accommodation as a concept should be abolished, that enhanced Housing Benefit should be abolished and replaced with “Supported Housing Rent“, which is an uncapped housing component of Universal Credit, that all supported housing providers should be accredited at local level (as they were under “Supporting People”) and that there should be an independent oversight system for Supported Housing  based on Value Generation principles.

At time of writing the Inquiry is ongoing, but we will be updating you on any progress it makes at our supported housing conference 2022 which, I repeat, is a free event. At time of writing, we have 800 bookings across the six separate components of the conference.

The Exempt Accommodation Project.

One of the serious implications of the abuse of the Exempt Accommodation rules and enhanced Housing Benefit is that local authorities have, in many cases, implemented quite stringent interpretations of the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing by making it much harder for supported housing providers to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. I can quite understand their position, but it affects genuine supported housing providers as well as their dubious counterparts.

In addition to making it harder to claim enhanced Housing Benefit, some local authorities have told supported housing providers to register as registered providers. This is because where a registered provider is the landlord a local authority can recover from the DWP all the enhanced Housing Benefit it pays. Where a charity or voluntary organisations the landlord in an exempt accommodation/enhanced Housing Benefit claim, the local authority can only recover 60% of the difference between the Local Housing Allowance rate and the amount of the claim, so the local authority will lose a lot of money if it pays the claim.

However, the RSH has an effective embargo on registering new supported housing registered providers, again due to the conduct of those wrongly motivated supported housing registered providers, many of which have been sanctioned by the RSH.

Our solution to this is the Exempt Accommodation Project, which brokers relationships between reputable supported housing providers and reputable registered providers to enable local authorities to pay reasonable, well-founded enhanced Housing Benefit claims without loss of subsidy.

Talk To Us

If you represent a reputable supported housing provider struggling to claim enhanced Housing Benefit, or a reputable registered provider willing to take a short-term lease on a supported housing provider’s property for a good revenue stream please contact us.

Finally, if you’re looking for values driven professional consultancy advice and support in supported housing, please get in touch.

Categories
Finance & Funding

Problems Claiming Enhanced Housing Benefit?

What’s The Problem?

Charities, voluntary organisations and registered providers (housing associations) that provide supported housing and/or tenancy sustainment services are entitled to Enhanced Housing Benefit to provide Intensive Housing Management. However, all things are not equal and some organisations are, in practice, more entitled than others.

If your organisation has decided to set up supported housing in a local authority area without consulting with the local authority in question, don’t be surprised if you’re refused Enhanced Housing Benefit. We’ve been involved in Enhanced Housing Benefit claims since 2005 and we reinvented the term “Intensive Housing Management”, but we don’t represent supported housing providers that operate without the approval of local authorities.

However, there is no guarantee even if your organisation is entitled to Enhanced Housing Benefit and that you operate with local authority approval that will be successful in claiming it.

I metioned that all things are not equal. A registered provider/housing association landlord usually has fewer problems in obtaining Enhanced Housing Benefit because, in such cases, the local authority can fully recover from the DWP the Enhanced Housing Benefit it pays to registered providers.

In the case of a charity or voluntary organisation the local authority can only recover 60% of the difference between the Local Housing Allowance level and the amount of the Enhanced Housing Benefit claim. Small wonder then that charities and voluntary organisations are finding it harder and harder to claim Enhanced Housing Benefit.

We hear increasing numbers of situations where charities and voluntary organisations that provide supported housing are being told by local authorities that they must become registered providers in order to qualify for Enhanced Housing Benefit and/or be included on local framework agreements.

For most charities and voluntary organisations, applying to become a registered provider is akin to trying to get the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle. However, we understand why local authorities have a problem over subsidy loss due to Enhanced Housing Benefit claims they can’t fully recover, even though the “get registered as a registered provider” solution is a non-starter for the vast majority of supported housing providers.

So What’s The Solution Then?

In short the solution is the Exempt Accommodation Project which we set up earlier this year.

The Exempt Accommodation Project seeks to match non-registered supported housing providers, irrespective of their legal identity (charity, voluntary agency, private provider) that own or lease their properties with compatible registered providers in a more equitable way than traditional registered provider/managing agency agreements. The properties in question are then leased by the supported housing provider to the registered provider on a 5-7 year basis. As a consequence, local authorities can fully reclaim the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay, because a registered provider is the landlord.

Since we set the Exempt Accommodation Project up we have been inundated with interest from providers and local authorities. We’ve also been successful in attracting a number of small, community-based registered providers to act as landlords by taking a short-term lease on supported housing providers’ properties.

These registered providers must, as a minimum, be responsible for:

  • Voids
  • Health & Safety
  • Tenant satisfaction
  • Administration of occupancy
  • Physical property standards

For managing the above, usually via the HB eligible (and otherwise entirely free) Cloudigs supported housing management system, the registered providers are paid around £20 per tenant per week. That’s over £100k per year, assuming 100 units of accommodation, the local authorities can then fully reclaim the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay and supported housing providers have fewer problems in claiming Enhanced Housing Benefit, which we do for them anyway. We also provide the lease and management agreement templates for the registered providers and supported housing providers to use. Our costs, which are minimal, are charged to the Enhanced Housing Benefit claim. So what’s not to like?

The Exempt Accommodation Project is happy to take on more local authority approved providers, but we’re especially in need of community-based registered providers that would appreciate a generous revenue stream whilst making a major contribution to solving their local authorities’ subsidy recovery problems.

So whether you’re a supported housing provider struggling with Enhanced Housing Benefit claims, a registered provider looking for a good revenue stream whilst generating huge value for your community or a local authority looking for a subsidy recovery solution, please talk to us. The Exempt Accommodation Project won’t cost you anything, but it will gain you a lot. It’s what you call a “no-brainer”.

Categories
Finance & Funding Policy

Enhanced Housing Benefit, the Exempt Accommodation Project and the Oversight of Supported Housing

Introduction

Some months ago, I wrote a briefing on the oversight of supported housing. Since then, much has happened in the supported housing space, including the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing and consequential structural changes at local authority level. These changes include more integrated “commissioning” of supported housing, often in conjunction with Revenues and Benefits departments, as local authorities consider how to manage the supported housing “market”.

Enhanced Housing Benefit and the Exempt Accommodation Rules

We have seen additional restrictions on, and greater scrutiny of enhanced Housing Benefit claims made by supported housing providers under the Exempt Accommodation rules.

Back in October 2020 I wrote a briefing on the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing in which I expressed concern that it would be used as an exercise in cost control. Unfortunately, those fears seem to be justified in many instances. Some local authorities are trying to insist on supported housing providers becoming registered providers to qualify for framework agreements and tenders in circumstances where, in England at least, this is a very difficult thing to do.

Other local authorities are restricting enhanced Housing Benefit payments to non-registered supported housing providers to artificial local maxima of less than they need and are entitled to. They do this to avoid the subsidy loss they incur when they pay enhanced Housing Benefit to non-registered supported housing providers. This is understandable in a way, but it further reinforces the three-tier system in which a tenant’s entitlement to enhanced Housing Benefit is dependent on the legal identity of their landlord, which is patently bonkers as well as discriminatory:

  • Private supported housing landlord: Local Housing Allowance levels only
  • Nonregistered supported housing provider landlord: reduced levels of enhanced Housing Benefit
  • Registered provider supported housing landlord: full enhanced Housing Benefit

We actually need to get rid of the Exempt Accommodation rules and move to a supported housing rent based on an unrestricted Universal Credit housing component. This should be irrespective of the legal identity of the supported housing provider.

The Exempt Accommodation Project

Whilst we are stuck with the Exempt Accommodation rules, we’ve developed the exempt accommodation project in order to:

  • Stop financial discrimination based on the legal identity of a supported housing landlord
  • Enable local authorities to fully recover the enhanced Housing Benefit they pay
  • Ensure full regulatory compliance through the optional use of the ClouDigs cloud-based supported housing management system (it’s effectively free, so why not?)
  • Ensure that supported housing providers are of good quality and only operate with the consent of local statutory sector partners

The Exempt Accommodation Project works by connecting non-registered supported housing providers that own or lease their properties with smaller, community-based registered providers that then take a legal interest in the properties concerned. This enables the payment of enhanced Housing Benefit, which the local authority can fully recover. We provide all the necessary documentary infrastructure and regulatory compliance systems, and we calculate and secure the enhanced Housing Benefit. It effectively costs nothing as the small costs involved are Housing Benefit eligible.

Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart

Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart
Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart

Please get in touch if you want to be part of the Exempt Accommodation Project, if you’re:

  • a supported housing provider, irrespective of legal identity, looking for enhanced Housing Benefit
  • a registered provider needing an additional revenue stream within a risk-managed structure
  • a local authority wanting a strategic approach to full subsidy recovery on enhanced Housing Benefit payments, and the effective management of the local supported housing market.

The Exempt Accommodation Project will not accommodate supported housing providers that are not welcome by the local authority within which they seek to operate. We conduct extensive due diligence on ALL supported housing providers (and registered providers) asking to be involved in the Exempt Accommodation Project. The first consideration the due diligence process is whether the supported housing provider in particular is “approved” by the local authority.

The Accreditation and Oversight of Supported Housing

It would be much simpler if supported housing providers were accredited by local authorities (not regulated or overseen, more on that in a minute). Why not simply refresh the old Supporting People accreditation framework? This would prevent the ill motivated people who set up poor quality supported housing providers and dubious registered providers as a moneymaking exercise from being able to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. Unaccredited providers should not be eligible to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. Thea Raisebeck’s “Exempt from Responsibility?” Report is an insight into the dangers of unaccredited providers.

The National Statement of Expectations requires local authorities to manage their local supported housing “market”, including supported housing services that they don’t fund, so-called non-commissioned services.

I think we need to clarify what we mean when we talk about “commissioned” and “non-commissioned” services. Both the National Statement of Expectation for Supported Housing and the abuse of the enhanced Housing Benefit system require us to do so.

In my view supported housing services should not be eligible for enhanced Housing Benefit or other funding unless they operate at the behest or with the approval of the local authority and its strategic partners.

Local authorities should actually accredit supported housing providers, whether or not they do so in a formal way. In this sense all enhanced Housing Benefit eligible supported housing services would effectively be “commissioned”. Commissioned with a capital C if they are recipients of local authority or other statutory funding aside from enhanced Housing Benefit and commissioned with a small c if they receive enhanced Housing Benefit only. The point is that the latter, which are erroneously referred to as “non-commissioned services”, should only be paid enhanced Housing Benefit if they operate at the behest of or with the approval of local authorities and are accredited by them. If they do this they should be regarded as commissioned services, albeit commissioned with a small c, as they do not receive local authority funding aside from enhanced Housing Benefit.

Accreditation is not regulation or oversight. It’s acceptance by a local authority that a provider operates strategically relevant supported housing that generates value[1].

As I have mentioned before, there is a multiplicity of regulators in the supported housing space: various national housing association/registered provider regulators, the Charity Commission, the CIC Regulator, the FCA none of which are specialists in supported housing.

For the most part supported housing is not overseen. The National Statement of Expectations doesn’t require local authorities to oversee supported housing, which is just as well as they are neither resourced and consequently skilled to do so.

I continue to argue for an independently developed and implemented supported housing oversight system with national scope and based on Value Generation principles. It should be developed by a university or think tank in consultation with the local authorities and providers but implemented independently. The outcomes it generates through formal oversight of supported housing should be fed back to local authorities and providers to inform funding and commissioning decisions and service improvement strategies.

The supported housing quality assessment system I propose (SHQAS) should be a Value Generation-based system. I defined the three value generation principles before and it’s important also to identify how these principles should be measured:

  1. Outcomes for people: qualitatively measured
  2. Cost benefit: quantitatively measured
  3. Wider social and community benefit: both qualitatively and quantitatively measured

The SHQAS should be funded by the UK and national governments. It shouldn’t cost providers and local authorities anything.

Conclusions

So, if you’re thinking about claiming enhanced Housing Benefit, be mindful of the fact that many local authorities are placing restrictions on the amounts they will pay and to whom.

Blanket approaches at restriction are exercises in cost control, not necessarily strategies to invest in supported housing providers that generate value and to restrict resources to those who don’t.

This means that there are many good supported housing providers, that don’t work with registered providers, that will have their revenue restricted. There are some not so good supported housing providers that work with registered providers (some of which are also questionable) which won’t have their revenue restricted.

The Exempt Accommodation Project is a means of rectifying this problem by matching good supported housing providers, which are “approved” by their local authorities, with good community-based registered providers.

In terms of how a local authority “approves” a supported housing provider I believe it should do so via a local accreditation process. No need to reinvent the wheel here: this is what local authorities used to do in the days of “Supporting People”. Bring out the old Supporting People accreditation framework, dust it down and update it for use today.

I don’t believe that local authorities are resourced or skilled to oversee supported housing, and in any event, we need to separate oversight on the one hand from commissioning and funding on the other. Hence, I have argued that a system for the oversight of supported housing, with national scope, should be developed by an independent agency such as a university or think tank and then implemented by that agency independently of both local authorities and supported housing providers. Clearly, the outcomes of the oversight process, which must be based on Value Generation principles, should be shared with both local authorities and providers to inform commissioning/funding decisions and service outcomes.

Michael Patterson

August 2021


[1] Value Generation is: outcomes for people (who live in supported housing); cost benefit to the public purse & wider social and community benefit.

Categories
Uncategorized

The Exempt Accommodation Project

Background

We have recently been contacted by a number of non-registered supported housing providers (i.e supported housing providers that are not registered providers/housing associations) who tell us that their local authorities require them to become registered providers of social housing in order to be able to be included on the local framework agreements and in order to qualify for Enhanced Housing Benefit.

We are also aware, as per my recent blog post, that some local authorities are restricting Enhanced Housing Benefit payments to non-registered providers to levels well below those paid to registered providers. This is because local authorities can only fully reclaim from the DWP the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay to registered providers.

Add to that the fact that private-sector providers have never been entitled to Enhanced Housing Benefit and what we have is a three-tier system in which:

  • Tenants of registered provider supported housing can receive full Enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements
  • Tenants of nonregistered supported housing providers receive partial Enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements
  • Tenants of private sector supported housing providers receive no Enhanced Housing Benefit at all

It simply wrong and discriminatory that tenants’ entitlements to Enhanced Housing Benefit, which is a personal benefit, are dependent on the legal identity of their landlord.

The Exempt Accommodation Project

The Exempt Accommodation Project is a way of helping local authorities to properly fund supported housing via Intensive Housing Management/Enhanced Housing Benefit without losing subsidy and without requiring non-registered providers to register as registered providers (housing associations).

The Exempt Accommodation Project is, of necessity, a means of tinkering with the existing system, which is based on the exempt accommodation rules. However, the UK government, having already said that supported housing will continue to be funded through the welfare system, should make the housing component of Universal Credit unrestricted for supported housing so that the true cost of supported housing can be met through a “Supported Housing Rent“. This should be payable to all supported housing providers, irrespective of their legal identity, provided they generate value[1] however, the wheels of state turn slowly so until that happens, we have the Exempt Accommodation Project.

How does the Exempt Accommodation Project work?

The Exempt Accommodation Project seeks to match nonregistered supported housing providers that own or lease their properties with compatible registered providers in a more equitable way than traditional registered provider/managing agency agreements. The properties in question are then leased by the supported housing provider to the registered provider on a 5-7 year basis. As a consequence, local authorities can fully reclaim the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay, because a registered provider is the landlord.

  • The registered provider is paid (via the Enhanced Housing Benefit claim) for what it does, which will vary depending on what, if anything, the supported housing provider needs. This is likely to appeal to smaller, community-based registered providers for whom the additional income could be a game-changer.
  • The supported housing provider is also paid for what it does via the same Enhanced Housing Benefit claim, which will be more secure because the local authority can recover it from the DWP.
  • The regulatory/oversight functions are managed via a bespoke cloud-based supported housing management system (ClouDigs) that is housing benefit eligible, so it costs nothing and generates huge value
  • Maintenance can be subcontracted to a specialist supported housing maintenance provider, or the registered provider can do it, depending on what works best for the supported housing provider.
  • We provide the necessary leases/subleases and management agreements
  • We calculate and negotiate the revised Enhanced Housing Benefit claims.
  • It won’t cost you anything except a small setup fee, which will be a fraction of the financial benefit that will accrue to you, and which is fully recoverable from Enhanced Housing Benefit in any case..

Supported housing providers and registered providers can choose who they work with and what components of the Exempt Accommodation Project structure they need. They may or may not need maintenance services, may or may not need the bespoke supported housing management system (but why not? It’s incredibly good and effectively free of charge).

Supported housing providers and registered providers that want to get involved will need to show that they generate value. They will need to show that they operate through recognised referral pathways as far as the local authorities are concerned. The Exempt Accommodation Project is not an invitation to dubiously motivated opportunists to access Enhanced Housing Benefit. It is an opportunity for genuine supported housing providers and registered providers to operate with the financial and strategic approval of local authorities and to enable those local authorities to fully recover the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay.

We are setting up a database of providers and registered providers in order to match one with the other. Matching may initially be done on the basis of geography; however, this may be less important than “cultural fit”. For example, some registered providers may prefer to work with non-profit supported housing providers. Others may be comfortable with private sector supported housing providers. Irrespective of legal identity supported housing providers must generate value, as must the registered providers.

It’s then up to the supported housing provider and registered provider to agree who does what and how the revenue is split. This is a discussion we can facilitate if that’s helpful. The split of roles can vary. Many supported housing providers that own or lease their property will want the registered provider to have a “light touch/arms-length” role. Others will want a greater level of registered provider involvement and the revenue would be split accordingly.


[1] Value Generation has 3 components: outcomes for people; cost benefit to the public purse & wider social and community benefit

Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart

We have a management agreement template that can be adjusted to reflect the parties’ respective roles and the split of revenue.

We have lease and sublease models that can be used to enable the registered provider to take a 5–7-year leasehold interest in the supported housing providers’ properties with mutual break clauses.

We have a bespoke cloud-based supported housing management system (developed by a supported housing provider) that enables the registered provider to fulfil its regulatory oversight responsibilities and enables the supported housing provider to manage its housing and support roles. This costs just a few pence per week per occupied bed space and is Housing Benefit eligible.

ClouDigs Supported Housing Management System

We have links to specialist supported housing maintenance provider so maintenance can be organised and paid for by the supported housing provider on a “true costs” basis. Alternatively, the supported housing provider can use the registered provider’s maintenance service if it has one or organise its own maintenance.

Management agreement relationships where the registered provider owns the property can be quite unequal. The Exempt Accommodation Project is intended for supported housing providers that own or lease their own property to work with registered providers on a more equal basis.

The Exempt Accommodation Project can also be a way of putting together registered providers and supported housing providers who want to discuss wider strategic partnerships and/or mergers. We have had contact from a registered provider in the north-east seeking this, and a supported housing provider in the West Midlands with the same idea.

As well as facilitating the entire structure of the of these arrangements (introductions, agreements, supported housing management system, maintenance options) we also revise the Enhanced Housing Benefit claims to take account of the (small) costs involved.

This idea generates huge value for local authorities, registered providers, supported housing providers and for residents of supported housing.

Getting Involved

Please get in touch if:

  • You’re a supported housing provider that needs secure Enhanced Housing Benefit revenue and eligibility to be included on local authority framework agreements, or you’ve been told to register as a registered provider
  • A registered provider that needs additional income or is interested in partnerships or mergers with supported housing providers
  • A local authority that’s looking to manage the local supported housing market in such a way as to generate value without loss of Housing Benefit subsidy

We already have a growing list of supported housing providers and registered providers on the Exempt Accommodation Project database. Please become part of this.

Michael Patterson

June 2021

Categories
Uncategorized

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?

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.

Categories
Finance & Funding

Intensive Housing Management & Enhanced Housing Benefit

A List of Routinely Eligible Intensive Housing Management Tasks & Functions

Please be mindful that just because a task, activity or function is listed here it doesn’t necessarily mean that a local authority Revenues & Benefits Team will agree to fund it, or even agree that it’s eligible in principle. Different authorities take different views, but what I have listed below are things that are routinely accepted as eligible.

Enhanced Housing Benefit for Intensive Housing Management is a complex area. It’s based on regulation and case law and is subject to change. Landlords seeking Enhanced Housing Benefit to fund Intensive Housing Management services must comply with the Exempt Accommodation rules. The amounts claimed should reflect the reasonable costs of providing eligible services to people who have been genuinely assessed as needing Intensive Housing Management.

Claims for Enhanced Housing Benefit are rightly subject to scrutiny by local authorities, and the level of scrutiny is increasing as a consequence of abuses of the system by some unscrupulous individuals and organisations. The National Statement of Expectation for Supported Housing (England only) encourages local authorities and their strategic partners to ‘manage the supported housing market’. In practical terms this involves ensuring the quality of supported housing providers and controlling Enhanced Housing Benefit costs.

If you are seeking Enhanced Housing Benefit for Intensive Housing Management you should be an existing, qualifying supported housing provider. If you are a new supported housing provider you should have established referral pathways and be acting with the specific approval of commissioners.

You might be an excellent supported housing provider that provides excellent services to people with additional needs. This doesn’t guarantee that a local authority will agree to pay you Enhanced Housing Benefit, but we can help you in the construction, submission and negotiation of claims.

Context

Intensive Housing Management that is routinely eligible for Enhanced Housing Benefit is split into two broad areas and includes both staff and non-staff costs:

  • General needs housing management and maintenance functions that are more intensively provided as a consequence of the additional needs of supported housing residents
  • Additional or intensive housing management and maintenance functions and tasks that would not be provided in general needs accommodation where no additional needs exist. Such tasks and functions include but are not limited to:

Intensive Housing Management List

  • The provision of an alarm (even though alarms are not HB eligible) or the Housing Proactive system (which is HB eligible. Please ask us about this)
  • Controlling access to the premises (concierge type services)
  • Ensuring rent is paid regularly and on time.
  • Explaining the occupancy agreement and assisting people to abide by it.
  • Organising inspections of property and arranging for any repairs or improvements to be carried out, including the replacement of furniture.
  • The additional costs of property maintenance and repair, aids and adaptations, housing services, furniture, fittings and equipment
  • Ensuring that people are aware of their rights under their occupancy agreement.
  • Offering advice and guidance on keeping property to a reasonable standard of hygiene.
  • Signposting people to other support providers as required.
  • Liaising with all relevant agencies, both statutory and voluntary, on the tenant’s behalf to the extent that it concerns their ability to maintain/develop independence in relation to their housing.
  • Assisting people to reduce rent arrears.
  • Dealing with nuisance issues.
  • Ensuring that people know how to use equipment safely.
  • Providing people with advice and facilitating a move to alternative accommodation as required.
  • Assisting people to claim the housing component of Universal Credit and other welfare benefits related to their supported housing.
  • Helping to keep people safe by monitoring visitors, including contractors and professionals, and by carrying out health and safety and risk assessments of property.
  • Internet access within sheltered and supported housing.
  • PPE.

If you do any or all of the above in sheltered and/or supported housing or tenancy sustainment services and you are an eligible provider (see paragraphs 2 and 4 above) then you should be eligible to claim Enhanced Housing Benefit

If you want advice and assistance in claiming Enhanced Housing Benefit please get in touch.

Categories
Training Events

Intensive Housing Management, the National Statement of Expectations & the Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill

A free Zoom event scheduled for 22nd April 2021 at 10am presented by Michael Patterson and Danny Key, two of the UK’s foremost experts in supported housing policy and finance.

This event will be for a duration of 90 minutes – 2 hours depending on the volume of questions from attendees, who will be provided with the presentation including links to relevant resources.

Context

Back in 2005 the Supporting People initiative was retrenching and supported housing providers needed a way to offset some of the consequent loss of funding. Danny Key had identified a refunding model based on the Exempt Accommodation rules and Housing Benefit regulations (enhanced Housing Benefit). Michael Patterson reintroduced the term ‘Intensive Housing Management’ to describe what it funded and set about promoting it to supported housing providers. The rest is history.

Enhanced Housing Benefit for Intensive Housing Management is now a revenue stream upon which the supported housing sector depends. It has survived the introduction of Universal Credit & UK Government policy changes. However, poor regulation and a lack of oversight of supported housing has led to some individuals and providers seriously abusing the system to the detriment of everyone except themselves. This has infomed the development of the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing and led directly to the Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill.

This event looks at:

  1. Enhanced Housing Benefit for Intensive Housing Management & Maintenance funding: what is it, who can claim it and how?
  2. What impact does the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing have on Enhanced Housing Benefit and supported housing in a wider context?
  3. What does the Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill mean for supported housing in general and for Enhanced Housing Benefit?

If you would like to participate in this event please email us with the words “event booking” in the subject line. We will confirm your participation by replying with a link to the Zoom event and a passcode.

If you would like advice on Enhanced Housing Benefit/Intensive Housing Management or any other aspect of supported housing please email us with the words “consultancy inquiry” in the subject line.

Michael Patterson is the author of the Supported Housing Blog and was responsible for reintroducing the terms “Intensive Housing Management” and “Tenancy Sustainment” to the supported housing sector and is currently promoting Value Generation as a means of measuring the quality of supported housing. Michael is available for consultancy assignments on any aspect of supported housing and specialises in revenue and capital finance and supported housing policy. Michael works with Danny Key on Enhanced Housing Benefit projects.

You can subscribe to the Supported Housing Blog by clicking this link.

You can contact Michael by emailing him on michael@michaelpatterson.co.uk or calling 0800 002 9467.

Please share this blog post with anyone you know who has an interest in supported housing, health & social care.

Supported Housing under a Magnifying Glass

Categories
Policy

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing

Introduction

It has been five years since the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review suggested changes to the regulation and oversight of supported housing. The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing published on 20th October 2020 is an underwhelming development after this five year wait, albeit that the 2018 decision to continue funding supported housing from the welfare system, rather than a local authority commissioned funding model to top up Local Housing Allowance rates of Housing Benefit, was a welcome hiatus.

We knew that MHCLG and DWP were going to focus on:

  • Controlling Housing Benefit costs
  • Exploring sector led accreditation and benchmarking for supported housing
  • Identifying local authorities’ strategic planning frameworks for supported housing, resulting initially in the draft National Statement of Expectations published in 2017 as part of the “Funding Supported Housing” consultation and policy statement.
  • Examining enhanced regulation for supported housing

Publication of the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing is well overdue after having been flagged up as a UK Government intention over two years ago as part of the “Funding Supported Housing” proposals of 2018 and the draft National Statement of Expectations of 2017.

Added to that is the increasingly urgent and understandably strident tone of various parties demanding that supported housing, or at least the “exempt accommodation sector” should be regulated. Thea Raisbeck’s important “Exempt From Responsibility?” report focusses on this and more.

I agree. I have said so often, for example, my blog post of June 2020. For me, any regulatory and oversight frameworks for supported housing have to be based on Value Generation principles:

  • Outcomes for people
  • Cost benefit
  • Wider social and community benefit

Regulation and Oversight

Regulation should apply to how an organisation is structured, managed and financed. Oversight, in contrast, should apply to what it does, in this case the delivery of supported housing.

There is already a multiplicity of regulators in the supported housing sector, none of which in my opinion has a complete grasp of the nature of supported housing. There are also many supported housing providers that are entirely unregulated. Add to that the vexed question of who oversees what supported housing does, regulated or not?

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing is not about regulation, it’s about oversight. It’s not about many of the services provided to people in supported housing, it’s about the accommodation itself and tenancy related services, the latter being Intensive Housing Management funded by enhanced Housing Benefit.

It’s also “guidance”. It relies on the statutory sector for its implementation and without additional funding it will have very little meaningful impact on how supported housing is overseen. This is a missed opportunity.

Having made clear that this Statement of Expectations is about oversight not regulation, it then makes clear that it’s about the oversight of supported housing accommodation not supported housing services. To be frank, it’s not really about oversight at all. It should oversee what supported housing does and how, not just where it does it.

Jurisdictional Scope

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing doesn’t make clear to whom it applies in UK jurisdictional terms. It’s a UK Government document but to the extent it mentions regulators it only mentions English regulators. The Housing Benefit about which it talks a lot is a non-devolved function. So, is this England only or is it, at least in part, UK wide? At least one of the examples of good practice used is from a Scottish housing provider.

Analysis

When a policy pronouncement of this potential significance is made, I would usually undertake a line by line analysis. I did begin to, but rapidly came to the conclusion that you’d lose the will to live after the nth vague exhortation by UK Government that local authorities should be “encouraged” to do stuff that was originally set out in the draft National Statement of Expectations of 2017.

I have therefore tried to summarise the UK Government’s “wish list” and to contextualise it by referring to what might have been.

The National statement of Expectations for Supported Housing is divided into two main sections:

  1. Assessing local need and planning effectively to meet demand
  2. Delivering accommodation which is safe, good quality and value for money

Assessing local need and planning effectively to meet demand

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing says that there should be collaboration between statutory sector agencies, including revenues and benefits teams, which should enable us to see that this is partly about controlling Housing Benefit costs in the specified/exempt accommodation sector.

I entirely agree that providers should collaborate with local authorities in the development of new supported housing. There are too many entirely unregulated supported housing providers setting up independently of commissioners and then applying for enhanced Housing Benefit.

Local authorities are “encouraged” to

  • Implement oversight arrangements
  • Undertake accommodation needs assessments
  • Map supply against current and future demands (as per the 2017 draft National Statement of Expectations)
  • Identify additional funding requirements.

Local authorities are not being given new money to do this and it isn’t a statutory requirement it’s just guidance, so there are no prizes for guessing what the likely upshot of this will be.

Providers of supported housing are exhorted to ensure safe and good quality housing, including the use of “the most secure form of tenancy/licence compatible with the purpose of the supported housing”.

Local authorities should ensure “value for money” by sharing data and benchmarking within and across local authority boundaries. Maybe you’ll forgive me for hoping that this is more about generating value (see the definition of Value Generation in the Introduction) than just crudely controlling costs, which often achieves the opposite effect. Restricting investment in prevention simply causes more human suffering and the much higher costs of subsequent, and otherwise avoidable, statutory health, social care and criminal justice interventions.

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing is right to say that enhanced Housing Benefit claims should be no higher than the cost of providing eligible services that people need, but the likely outcome of what may be chalk and cheese comparisons of different supported housing services to establish local benchmarks may simply be to restrict the amounts payable on the basis of false comparisons. In other words, it may well be more about controlling costs than meeting peoples’ needs or generating value.

The National Statement of Expectation for Supported Housing provides a comprehensive list of (English) statutory and other agencies which should be involved in assessing needs and planning supported housing. It refers to the National Planning Policy Framework (which applies to England only, by the way) and makes reference to the need for “cross authority arrangements”. The latter have been with us in spirit but alas, rarely in physical form since the days of Supporting People.

Delivering accommodation, which is safe, good quality and value for money

The National Standards of Expectations for Supported Housing document refers to a checklist of existing legal requirements and suggested standards for accommodation and “tenancy related housing services” (presumably a reference to Intensive Housing Management funded by enhanced Housing Benefit). These are in Annexes A and B of the document.

Rather predictably much of the focus on “oversight” is around controlling Housing Benefit costs. I’m very much in favour of ensuring that enhanced Housing Benefit is paid at a rate equivalent to the reasonable costs of providing Housing Benefit eligible services that supported housing residents need. To do so is a good investment in prevention and enablement. I am not in favour of reducing enhanced Housing Benefit payments down to artificial maxima established on the basis of false comparisons between different supported housing services as a means of cost control. I’m also bitterly opposed to paying any Housing Benefit whatsoever to contrived supported housing arrangements set up by ill-motivated people to milk the system at the expense of people with additional needs and of the public purse.

I return again to the notion of Value Generation. Sometimes the enhanced Housing Benefit costs of supported housing seem high, whether it’s paid to Specialised Supported Housing (see page 4 of the hyperlinked document for a definition) or other forms of supported and sheltered housing. However, other services for people with additional needs are often far more expensive, and if supported housing generates value:

  • Outcomes for people
  • Cost benefit (to the public purse)
  • Wider social and community benefit

then enhanced Housing Benefit, which equates to what it reasonably costs to provide eligible services, generates a lot of value as well. To use the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing to artificially suppress enhanced Housing Benefit entitlements would be a myopic mistake.

The exhortation within the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing for commissioners and revenues and benefits departments to work together is both welcome and overdue. I am familiar with too many examples where commissioners give strategic support to a supported housing service (even if they’re not funding it) but revenues and benefits departments refuse enhanced Housing Benefit payments. This is most frequently because they can’t fully recover the amount of the proposed charge from the DWP, which is jointly responsible for the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing by the way.

In addition, I’m familiar with so-called supported housing services that are awarded enhanced Housing Benefit by revenues and benefits departments, even though these services are set up without reference to commissioners. Mercifully, this situation is increasingly less common now.

As I said in my introduction to this briefing, the UK Government was thinking about sector led benchmarking and accreditation schemes. My own view is that oversight should be conducted by an externally developed framework for accreditation and quality, based on Value Generation principles. In my “Oversight of Supported Housing” blog post I set out the basis for such a system, to be developed by a University or think tank and implemented by the same agency independently of commissioners/funders and providers, although they would inform its shape and nature according to Value Generation principles. The measurement of the value of supported housing must be independent of the people who fund and provide it.

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing proposes a Supported Housing Sector Scorecard, an initiative apparently being led by the National Housing Federation but about which there is little in the public domain. Its development has been delayed for understandable pandemic-related reasons. What is less understandable is the apparent lack of openness about its development, with organisations simply being asked to email the coordinating agency to participate.

It’s based on the more general Sector Scorecard for social housing, the vast bulk of the reports from which are quantitative not qualitative. For supported housing in particular, qualitative data really matters because how people feel about supported housing can often not be measured in quantitative terms, neither can much of its wider social and community benefit. Forgive me for reminding you again of the three Value Generation principles:

  • Outcomes for people
  • Cost benefit (to the public purse)
  • Wider social and community benefit

Of these three the first and the third principles need to be measured qualitatively lest we become preoccupied with the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Conclusions

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing has been a long time in the making. It hasn’t changed that much from the draft National Statement of Expectations of 2017 and is disappointing in its scope.

Its focus is on the oversight of the buildings in which supported housing is provided and on “tenancy-related services” only (presumably another term for Intensive Housing Management). It doesn’t concern itself with regulation.

Existing regulators in the sector have neither the scope not the expertise to regulate what supported housing does nor the mandate to oversee it. Given the extent of additional need that supported and sheltered housing is now expected to meet we’ve been let down here. Much of what the sector does will remain inadequately overseen and unregulated.

It seems to me that the primary thrust of the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing is the control of enhanced Housing Benefit expenditure. It is certainly true that we should be very careful about who is paid enhanced Housing Benefit. That is a very different thing from artificially restricting such payments to genuine, value generating supported housing providers. We have an opportunity and a necessity to separate the supported housing sheep from the goats and the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing manifestly fails to help us do this.

To the extent to which the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing identifies useful things, for example, coordination between revenues and benefits teams and commissioners, wider involvement of other statutory agencies, strategic planning and the mapping of supply and demand for supported housing, it does nothing to enable these things. It’s only guidance and provides no new funding for implementation and as such it’s a recipe for inaction save for the focus on restricting enhanced Housing Benefit.

The framework for the oversight of supported housing should be developed and implemented independently of commissioners and providers, albeit with the latter’s significant input. There has to be a separation between the measurement of quality on the one hand and the funding and delivery of supported housing on the other.

Moreover, the oversight of supported housing should be conducted according to Value Generation principles, which have their own internal cost/quality checks and balances.

Michael Patterson

October 2020

Categories
Finance & Funding Policy

Working Together to Develop New Supported Housing

A Bit of Background

One of the issues that has preoccupied me lately is the way in which private and institutional capital has been and is being introduced to the sector to fund supported housing for people with often high levels of additional need.

Let me be clear; I’m very much in favour of this, but it’s important that it’s done properly by investors, commissioners, housing associations and care and support providers.

You’ll probably be familiar with my emphasis on Value Generation principles

  • Outcomes for people
  • Cost benefit to the public purse
  • Wider social and community benefit

It’s important that all parties have a common values base, such as Value Generation, if we are all involved with services for people with additional needs. If supported housing is developed without common values between the parties involved, the people who pay the price of failure are those who live in it and those who work directly with them to do so.

Private Capital for Supported Housing

Supported housing funded through private capital is a relatively immature “market” and the record so far is a patchy one.

Investors are being offered a good deal here if they’ve done their homework, they know they’ll get a safe long-term return on their investment. That return should be measured in single figure ROI percentages, yet commissioners tell me of investors seeking excessive double-digit percentages whilst some “aggregators” walk off with huge commissions.

If the bottom line is all that matters, then you’re dealing with the wrong sector. To the extent that supported housing is “market” it’s a social one, and your social purpose has to underpin your investment. There are some really good socially oriented investors out there and they’re looking for commissioners who need supported housing. There are housing associations that understand what their role should be and providers with the capacity and vision to take on a wider role, for example, direct responsibility for day-to-day and reactive maintenance as well as direct support to residents.

The Role of Housing Associations

Housing associations are a necessary part of the mix here and, in many cases, they don’t actually provide much or any intensive housing management and support to people who live in supported housing (who are their tenants). This is more often done by specialist providers, but not always: some housing associations are also providers in their own right.

There are different types of housing associations. The “REIT” (Real Estate Investment Trust) based housing associations are there to enable local authorities to fully recover from the DWP the enhanced Housing Benefit they claim for supported housing, and to be a regulated presence that should provide comfort to commissioners and others involved in the development of privately funded supported housing.

REIT-based housing associations need to be independent of capital finance providers, not just a vehicle for enhanced revenue. We should be entitled to expect them to manage their finances and conduct their governance in accordance with a social model of operation. They claim significant levels of public funding in the form of enhanced Housing Benefit, which is a personal benefit of their residents. They should make proper provision for the operation of the housing for which they are responsible, including the creation of maintenance sinking funds and other operational costs. They should remunerate their people on the basis of the value they generate within a social market.

The English Social Housing Regulator recently investigated a number of REIT-based housing associations that develop supported housing with the use of private capital and operate on the basis of public revenue (enhanced Housing Benefit). Regulatory judgements were issued on a number of these. Without commenting on specific cases, it seems to me that the Social Housing Regulator may have rightly censured some but did so without publicly identifying whether any individuals involved made significant personal financial gain. To some extent the Regulator may have also thrown the baby out with the bathwater by criticising other REIT-based housing associations that develop and operate very good supported housing and generate significant value.

Community-based or “traditional” housing associations are typically different from REIT-based associations as they’re not primarily vehicles for the introduction of private capital. What I would like to see is a model where these community-based housing associations act to facilitate the introduction of private capital for supported housing and matching enhanced Housing Benefit because they typically have good governance and operational/financial management.

Sometimes community-based housing associations directly manage supported housing, often they conclude Management Agreements with specialist provider agencies to do so. The agency management route is a well-worn path, but not without its own problems. One of the problems with many housing associations is a common failure to provide sufficiently responsive maintenance services. A broken window in a general needs property may not be deemed to be an “urgent” or “emergency” repair, but in supported housing it often exactly that because of the tenants’ additional needs. The provider agency is usually in a better position to deal with responsive maintenance and in my opinion the Management Agreement should allow for this and the maintenance revenue stream should go direct to the provider agency.

Socially oriented private and institutional investors, commissioners and providers in supported housing would very much value being involved with community-based housing associations, which would take a lease on the supported housing properties. Under such an arrangement, community-based housing associations would enable the claiming of enhanced Housing Benefit such that the local authorities that pay it can fully reclaim it from the DWP.

A Management Agreement would still need to be concluded with the provider agency within which the community-based housing association’s role would be minimal: ensuring that occupancy agreements with their tenants are properly administered by the provider agency and ensuring that the physical environment is of an excellent standard without actually doing the day-to-day maintenance, which would be one of the provider’s roles.

The housing association would receive a management and administration fee and possibly an equity share in the properties as well as plaudits from commissioners and others for acting according to a social purpose.

A Call To Action

I’m prompted to write about this having recently been in discussion with social investors and property developers who are looking for community housing associations and provider partners to work with in the development of new supported housing.

I’ve also been asked to help connect providers with people who fund and develop property for use of supported housing.

  • So if you’re a support provider looking for property for supported housing or the capital to develop it
  • A socially oriented property developer/investor looking for a supported housing provider or a community housing association to work with
  • A commissioner who wants to see the development of good quality supported housing in your area
  • Or a community housing association that’s interested in working with a socially oriented property developer/investor to develop supported housing, with or without an agency support provider

Then please get in touch directly with me and I can put you in touch with my wide network of contacts in the provider, housing association, commissioning and investor/developer sectors.

A Few Words of Caution

On a final, if slightly separate matter: if you’re someone who wants me to help you

  • Set up as a housing association/RP
  • Or a supported housing provider using private property in which you have a personal interest
  • Or you want enhanced Housing Benefit for supported housing that you set up without the active support of local commissioners

Then please DON’T contact me.

Please excuse the slightly tetchy tone but it sometimes gets a little tiresome. I publish blog posts and briefings promoting the need for an integrated and social approach to the development of supported housing, and I then get inundated with requests from private individuals whose intentions have much to do with private profit and little or nothing to do with social value.

I have values (see Value Generation above). They’re important to me and to supported housing in general. I work with people who share those values. I don’t work with people who don’t share those values.