This included an intention to make:
Changes to Housing Benefit regulations to seek to define care, support and supervision to improve quality and value for money across all specified supported housing provision.’
Any such changes could affect supported people and landlords providing supported housing in Scotland. At the moment it is not clear what these changes will consist of but it is likely to involve a tighter definition of support for accommodation to be classed as supported exempt accommodation. Currently the rule of thumb is ‘minimal support and supervision’ which is open to interpretation. The concerns about the level of rents in some supported exempt accommodation in England could prompt new limits on HB.
What is driving these changes?
The UK Government’s Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) Committee is conducting an enquiry into exempt supported accommodation in England after a 61.5% increase in the number of households living in this type of accommodation between 2016 and May 2021. There are particular concerns about the quality of the accommodation and instances of poor quality of support in some areas including the West Midlands, Blackpool and Bristol. Up to May 2021 the Regulator of Social Housing had issued non-compliant ratings to 3 out of the 7 largest exempt supported accommodation providers in Birmingham. The UK Government is looking at ways of regulating the sector more effectively in England to combat poor quality and poor value of some supported housing.
As well as looking at HB regulations, the UK Government intends to introduce:
‘Minimum standards for the support provided to residents to ensure residents receive the good quality support they expect and deserve in order to live as independently as possible and achieve their personal goals;
New powers for local authorities in England to better manage their local supported housing market and ensure that rogue landlords cannot exploit the system to the detriment of vulnerable residents and at the expense of taxpayers;’
This is an acknowledgement that the issues faced in England will not be dealt with by addressing the HB regulations alone. Any measures introduced to deal with these two issues in England should not impact on Scotland as both regulation of housing support and planning regulations are devolved matters.
More on the perceived challenges faced in England
The DLUHC Committee held an evidence session on 28th March which involved the housing, care and charity regulators to examine their role in regulating aspects of exempt supported accommodation in England. The session highlighted a lack of information about exempt supported accommodation due to the fact that the term is a HB definition and doesn’t relate to categories used by the regulators. Regulators in England find it difficult to improve standards, rectify poor practice or poor governance.
Particular concerns have been raised about the use of a lease model of exempt accommodation which are often short term and can expand rapidly. There have been examples of companies selling on supported accommodation at an inflated price on the basis of high rents which could be unsustainable. The Regulator of Social Housing regulates around 35 lease based organisations and has issued 23 non-compliant judgements in England.
Exempt supported accommodation in Scotland
In Scotland we can be much more confident about the quality of supported housing given that it is regulated by the Care Inspectorate and so required to meet Health and Social Care Standards. Regulated services are subject to inspection and the Care Inspectorate has powers to close services down. Governance arrangements as well as the fitness of key staff and directors are subject to scrutiny. In addition to this, the supported housing workforce is regulated through the Scottish Social Services Council. As far as we know, the UK government is not questioning the standard of supported housing in Scotland.
The Unit recently delivered a training session on HB and Supported Housing for providers which included reflections on possible changes to HB regulation. You can obtain the recording of this session by contacting Yvette Burgess.
We will be following this up with a roundtable event in conjunction with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. The purpose of this meeting will be to consider possible implications for supported housing in Scotland. Invitations to this will be sent out shortly.
The UK Government is expected to launch an evaluation report on a series of supported housing pilot projects that have taken place over the last couple of years in England. We are looking out for that and will consider any early indications of the sorts of changes that might lie ahead.
The Unit is in contact with the Scottish Government as it engages with the DWP and other UK officials to make sure that implications for Scotland are well understood.
If you wish to contact the Unit to discuss this issue please email Yvette Burgess.