This briefing is aimed at supported housing providers claiming enhanced housing benefit [both registered providers and non-registered providers] and local authority supported housing commissioning and Revenues and Benefits colleagues.
Enhanced housing benefit became a “thing” from around 2005 when a few of us working in the sector back then we’re looking to identify an alternative revenue stream for supported housing in the light of the retrenchment of “Supporting People” funding.
Enhanced housing benefit funded and funds what Supporting People progressively ceased to fund: essentially non-support related and property related services and functions that are provided in supported housing. Back in 2005 I described these housing benefit funded services and functions as “intensive housing management”; a term that has now become commonplace within the supported housing sector.
Enhanced housing benefit and intensive housing management have become an essential component of the supported housing sector over the years. The amounts of enhanced housing benefit paid annually has gone from £0 in 2005 to around £1 billion now. However, we have also seen industrial scale abuses of enhanced housing benefit over the years by money motivated actors. Consequently, people within the supported housing sector, such as myself, councils and government have shone a spotlight on the situation, and we now see terms such as “Wild West gold rush” [another widely adopted term I coined] being used to describe what is wrong with the system. The problem is not with enhanced housing benefit itself, but with those who abuse it and abuse people with additional needs whose money this is.
Consequently, over time we have seen inquiries, legislation, and regulations to try and manage the enhanced housing benefit system and the abuse is of it. In so doing it is important that the powers that be sort the enhanced housing benefit sheep out from the goats without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are very many excellent supported housing providers that claim enhanced housing benefit. They and their residents should not be prejudiced by the shameful abuses of a minority.
The legislative response can be seen in the form of the Supported Housing Regulatory Oversight Act 2023. I will be publishing an updated briefing on this legislation imminently and I will be running a series of events in the New Year, details of which will be published shortly.
The DWP Guidance
The regulatory response took shape in May 2022 in the form of the “DWP housing benefit guidance for supported housing claims”. As well as taking its cue from an understandable concern about the abuse of enhanced housing benefit, it also seeks to restrict eligibility for enhanced housing benefit to strictly property related services and functions.
In undertaking an analysis of this guidance, my purpose is to focus only on those parts which are directly relevant to enhanced housing benefit claims [paragraphs 137-178].
Paragraph 137: care, support and supervision must be linked to the property [it must not be floating support]. But see paragraphs 156-158 below.
Paragraph 138: the landlord doesn’t have to be the primary provider of care, support and supervision, but must provide a “more than minimal amount”. It is not enough for the landlord to simply facilitate or coordinate the provision of care, support and supervision.
Paragraph 140: where the care, support and supervision are commissioned by the local authority or the NHS and the landlord doesn’t provide a more than minimal amount of care, support and supervision, the accommodation in question would not be deemed to be specified accommodation and the tenants therein would not be eligible for enhanced housing benefit as a consequence.
Paragraph 142: the focus is on people, not buildings. All eligible claimants must need care, support and supervision to a more than minimal degree, whether or not they avail themselves of it. In some supported housing schemes, some residents may be eligible for enhanced housing benefit whilst others may not.
Paragraph 145: an admission to a supported housing scheme must include a needs assessment conducted by a suitably qualified and experienced person. This could be undertaken by the local authority or by the provider. Third party funding such as Personal Independence Payment or local authority/NHS top up is evidence of an established need and of an appropriate assessment.
Paragraph 148: the needs assessment referred to in paragraph 145 [above] must be supported by a care, support and supervision plan.
Paragraph 149: referral routes into supported housing matter and should be such that Revenues and Benefits colleagues can assume that a needs assessment has taken place. This means that self-referrals are not appropriate, housing options/ homelessness teams referrals are often not appropriate [at least not without supported housing commissioner support] and some third-party provider agency referrals are also not appropriate.
Paragraphs 150 to 155: we still await a formal definition of “care, support and supervision” as part of the Supported Housing Regulatory Oversight Act 2023 consultations. It is to be hoped that this will not be a restrictive definition that would negatively impact on enhanced housing benefit entitlements. This is especially so given the widening funding gap affecting non housing benefit eligible services such as support. However, the direction of travel in the DWP guidance is to try and restrict enhanced housing benefit payments and where the DWP is involved in defining care, support and supervision it would be no surprise if any formal definition was more restrictive still.
Paragraph 151: this paragraph states that there is no set number of hours of care, support and supervision required for the amounts to be deemed to be “sufficient”. However, many local authorities consider three hours of care, support and supervision per tenant a week [on an average basis] to be the minimum required amount and frequently reference case law [CH/1289/2007] in support of this.
As a catch all definition of “care, support and supervision” I believe that it is the totality of both housing benefit eligible [intensive housing management] tasks and functions and non-housing benefit eligible [support] tasks and functions.
Ongoing care, support and supervision is regarded as having more “value” in enhanced housing benefit claim terms than one off tasks and services, for example, signing someone up as a tenant. One to one support is more “valuable” than group support. Care, support and supervision provided by trained and qualified staff is more “valuable” than that provided by untrained/unqualified staff. Direct work with tenants, for example care, support and supervision provided on an agreed appointment basis is more “valuable” than a worker simply being available to be seen. Additional maintenance and repairs due to the needs of tenants should be seen as enhanced housing benefit eligible care, support and supervision.
It is essential that supported housing providers are aware of this and the need to evidence the nature and fact of the services they provide. I have seen too many situations where enhanced housing benefit is denied or withdrawn on the basis that the supported housing provider cannot evidence the support that it genuinely provides.
Paragraphs 156-158: “floating support” is care, support and supervision that is not linked to accommodation. In such circumstances the accommodation in question cannot be defined as specified accommodation, and therefore enhanced housing benefit is not payable. The DWP guidance justifies this on the basis that such accommodation “has not been specifically designed, acquired, adapted or designated to be supported housing”. It is worth noting that this statement is open to interpretation. Many supported housing providers and refuge providers who have dispersed or move on accommodation may well wish to designate as supported housing what might otherwise be seen simply as dispersed or move on accommodation.
Paragraphs 159-165: to qualify for enhanced housing benefit supported housing providers must provide both intensive housing management and support. Support is not fundable by housing benefit and supported housing providers must be able to show how much support is provided, of what nature and, crucially, how it is funded. It can be funded by third party sources such as the local authority/ NHS or charitable funding, via internal subsidy within the supported housing provider or by charging the tenants directly. The point is that within any enhanced housing benefit claim supported housing providers must identify the funding sources for the support that they provide.
Paragraphs 174-176: the DWP guidance reiterates the established view that for service charges to be eligible for housing benefit they must relate to the provision of adequate accommodation, so for example, assisting people to claim benefits is an ineligible charge because it has no impact on the condition of the accommodation. However, I would argue assisting tenants to claim housing benefit, as distinct from other benefits, is eligible.
The guidance then goes on to say [paragraph 175] that “charges for installation, maintenance or repair of any special equipment or adaptations to the claimant’s accommodation to make it suitable to their particular needs are not an eligible service charge”. I would have thought that special equipment and adaptations are absolutely related to the provision of adequate accommodation: however, this is not the view of the guidance, and I would be very interested in other peoples’ observations on this issue.
In paragraph 176 the guidance states that the overhead costs of support are not eligible as part of an enhanced housing benefit claim. I have come across situations in which Revenues and Benefits colleagues have used this paragraph to restrict all overhead costs, which is incorrect. Supported housing providers should be clear about the percentage of eligible services as opposed to ineligible services they provide [remember you must provide both] when calculating the appropriate eligible overhead charge.
Paragraphs 177-178: there follows a list of what I deem to be enhanced housing benefit eligible tasks and functions. This list is a combination of what is included within the DWP guidance and within my long-established briefing that is routinely used as a template for enhanced housing benefit eligible tasks and functions and related staff job descriptions. Please note that both the DWP guidance and my briefing both state that this list is not exhaustive:
- Controlling access to the premises.
- Ensuring rent is paid regularly and on time.
- Explaining the occupancy agreement and assisting people to understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to it.
- The additional costs of property maintenance and repair, housing services, furniture, fittings, and equipment where the furniture fixtures and fittings do not become the property of the resident.
- Offering advice and guidance on keeping property to a reasonable standard of hygiene.
- 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
- Helping to keep people safe by monitoring visitors, including contractors and professionals, and by carrying out health and safety, maintenance, and risk assessments of property.
- Internet access within sheltered and supported housing.
- Support/IHM worker, concierge, caretaker, or warden staff – only allow the proportion of the charge for the time they are providing HB eligible accommodation-related services.
- The overhead costs of providing HB eligible services (office costs, IT, travel, telephones, stationary etc).
- Refuse removal of communal bins.
- External cleaning of tenant’s windows where the tenant does not live on the ground floor.
- Ongoing maintenance (including repair, cleaning, and utility) of equipment.
- communal grounds (including basic gardening and lighting for areas of external access).
- communal laundry facilities.
- internal communal areas.
- cleaning of windows in communal areas and of individual’s accommodation above ground floor level where they are unable to do it.
- communal lifts.
- communal telephone (excluding the cost of calls).
- secure building access, including entry phones, key cards and keypad door locking mechanisms.
How I Can Help You
Claiming enhanced housing benefit is a technical process, even if you do have a good grasp of the regulations, and not every supported housing provider is sufficiently resourced or confident to construct an enhanced housing benefit claim and to defend it when local authority scrutiny is applied.
This is where I can help you. Remember, I was one of the few people who originally identified the exempt accommodation rules as the gateway to enhanced housing benefit back in 2005, and it was me who reinvented the term “intensive housing management” as a descriptor for the tasks listed above.
I take a collaborative approach with revenues and benefits colleagues in negotiating enhanced housing benefit claims. I don’t work with supported housing providers that local authorities haven’t approved, and I have an enviable success rate.
This is at least in part because of my commitment to ensuring that local authorities can fully recover from the DWP the enhanced housing benefit they pay to supported housing providers.
To achieve this, I set up the Exempt Accommodation Project in 2021, which now has several hundred units of accommodation in management and partnerships with half a dozen registered providers, many of them YMCAs.
My work in claiming enhanced housing benefit for supported housing providers is effectively cost neutral, whether or not you use the Exempt Accommodation Project.
My “call to action” to supported housing providers is that you should contact me if you need help with any aspect of enhanced housing benefit. My call to action to local authorities is that you should contact me if you need assistance in eliminating subsidy loss on the enhanced housing benefit claims.