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Policy

The Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill

As those of you familiar with my briefings and blog posts will know, I have for some time been advocating the need for supported housing to be regulated. In devising a system of regulation and oversight, we have the opportunity to either create a system that enables supported housing to generate value in a big way or one that is an albatross that starves supported housing of revenue and serves only to support the discredited system of public sector cost control within which the balance between cost and quality has become compromised. The latter is inimical to Value Generation, which should underpin public sector commissioning (and much else besides). It has 3 components:

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

Allow me first to make the distinction between regulation and oversight in supported housing, as I have done previously. 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.

Having made that distinction, it should be noted that the supported housing sector has a multiplicity of regulators (the Charity Commission, the various social housing regulators across the UK and even the FCA for some voluntary organisations). The only thing they have in common is difference unfortunately, and none of them are in any way expert in supported housing. There is a large and growing number of entirely unregulated supported housing providers as well.

Recent events, including the massive growth of Exempt Supported Housing providers both nationally, but especially in Birmingham and regulatory judgements by the English Regulator of Social Housing have brought this lack of regulation to the fore, resulting in the publication of the Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill, which received its first reading in the House of Commons in November 2020.

What is immediately noticeable about the commentary on this as yet unpublished bill are two things:

  1. A lack of distinction between regulation on the one hand and oversight on the other (but it’s early days).
  2. The intention to locate responsibility for what the title of the bill calls “regulation” (although I think it means oversight) in the hands of local authorities.

I’ve covered the distinction between regulation and oversight above and the bill needs to deal with this distinction in its wording for its scheduled second reading in the House of Commons.

The current systems of (organisational) regulation are wildly inconsistent both in their scope and application.

So does the bill intend to place regulation or oversight in the hands of local authorities?

My view is that it would be appropriate for local authorities to be able to regulate and accredit supported housing providers much as they did under the Supporting People initiative. At that time providers had to demonstrate to local authorities that they met certain standards in governance, financial management and stability, operational competence and diversity and inclusion. Why not update and improve the old Supporting People accreditation process rather than reinvent the wheel?

Oversight, however, is a different matter. I have long been of the view that the oversight of supported housing, i.e. the measurement of the quality of what supported housing does, should be separated from those who commission and/or fund supported housing. Local authorities are motivated by cost control, which is inimical to Value Generation, and they’re not appropriately resourced or structured to oversee the operation of supported housing.

The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing gives English local authorities a great deal of responsibility for the strategic commissioning and “market management” of supported housing. We are already seeing some local authorities in England setting up new commissioning infrastructure, including Revenues and Benefits colleagues (who administer enhanced Housing Benefit), to fulfil these National Statement of Expectation responsibilities.

Supported housing needs to have objective measures of quality, based on Value Generation principles, that are clearly separate from the National Statement of Expectation-based regulatory responsibilities of local authorities and their strategic partners.

As per my previous briefings and blog posts on the regulation and oversight of supported housing, I believe that oversight (as distinct from regulation) systems should be  independently developed on the basis of Value Generation principles by third parties such as universities, albeit in consultation with local authorities and supported housing providers, but implemented independently. Local authorities and their strategic partners can then use the independently collected oversight/operational quality data on supported housing providers to inform commissioning and/or funding decisions required of them by the National Statement of Expectation for Supported Housing. At the same time a clear separation is maintained between oversight on the one hand, and commissioning/funding on the other. This way there is less risk of a conflict of interest between the measurement of quality and cost control. If cost control was ditched in favour of Value Generation, then it would be a different matter.

I would urge all legitimate supported housing providers of all types to engage with the Members of Parliament who are sponsoring this much-needed Supported Housing (Regulation) Bill in order to inform its content and direction. Specifically, the need to make a well calibrated distinction between regulation on the one hand and oversight on the other, and also to make the case for the oversight system to be developed and implemented on Value Generation principles separately from local authorities and their strategic partners.

We can then have the assurance that the measurement of supported housing services’ quality will not be compromised by the dead hand of cost control.

The email addresses of the MPs in question are below. Please contact them and put “supported housing (regulation) Bill” in the subject line. You can refer them to this briefing if you wish by including this link https://supportedhousing.blog/2021/02/19/the-supported-housing-regulation-bill in the body of your email and telling them that it’s less than a 5 minute read.

Kerry McCarthy: kerry.mccarthy.mp@parliament.uk  

Mr Clive Betts: officeofclivebettsmp@parliament.uk

Shabana Mahmood: shabana.mahmood.mp@parliament.uk  

Steve McCabe: stephen.mccabe.mp@parliament.uk

Bob Blackman: bob.blackman.mp@parliament.uk

Helen Hayes: helen.hayes.mp@parliament.uk

Fleur Anderson: fleur.anderson.mp@parliament.uk

Tim Loughton: loughtont@parliament.uk

Andrew Selous: andrew.selous.mp@parliament.uk 

Mohammad Yasin: office@mohammadyasin.org  

Munira Wilson: munira.wilson.mp@parliament.uk

Andrew Gwynne: GwynneA@parliament.uk