Joint Committee says don’t use the LHA rates to cap benefits in social housing

The joint Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee have now reported back on their findings after conducting an inquiry into the future of supported housing in the light of plans to introduce the Local Housing Allowance cap (LHA cap)

The report sets out the role of supported housing and acknowledges the cash savings to other public services such as health and social care and criminal justice.  Early on the report acknowledges the lack of regulation in England compared with Scotland and sets out a commitment to ensuring that those living in supported housing in England will see improved quality through better oversight.

Significantly, though not surprisingly,  the joint committee found that the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) does not offer a suitable way of setting benefit levels for supported housing because supported housing costs do not vary according to private rents levels in an area.  It also found evidence of investment in supported housing being put at risk because of the uncertainty over longer term funding.

In the report, the Committee recommends that there should be a Supported Housing Allowance that better reflects the actual costs of supported housing through a series of bands.  This would mean that many less services would need to apply for a local funding pot which their local authority will distribute.

The timescale for the changes is of concern and the joint Committee report urges the UK Government to push back the timescales of implementing the changes to ensure that adequate measures can be put in place to protect vulnerable people.

With regard to ‘very short-term accommodation’, the report recommends that local authority grant funding should be made available to pay for services rather than be based on individual entitlement.  This would avoid the problems associated with the Universal Credit system which cannot deal with short term changes.

The report also considers the particular challenges faced by refuges for women and children and recommends that a national network of refuges be created that would not be subject to admission criteria set by local authorities.  This would most likely involve a national funding programme.

On the issue of employment the report suggests that the Universal Credit system will not penalise individuals in the way that JSA and the HB system currently do and suggests that the UK Government provides further information to promote a better understanding across providers of supported housing.

Next steps

The UK Government is expected to publish a report soon on the responses to the consultation earlier this year on supported housing and the LHA cap.  This will give further insight into the concerns stakeholders have about the prospect of the LHA cap as well as possible alternatives.  At the same time, the work of the Government’s various Task and Finish groups is coming to an end and recommendations are being drawn up on issues such as Short Term Accommodation to help inform the forthcoming Green Paper.

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