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