You may recall that earlier this year I wrote about my concern over the Government’s plans to cut housing benefit, to the detriment of supported housing schemes.
Since then I have met with several housing providers to find out more about the possible effects of this policy here in Bolton. I know from my casework that older residents often struggle to find housing that meets their additional requirements, and the uncertainty caused by this policy puts at risk any future investment into the housing projects needed to meet this rising demand. Many other specialist schemes, like housing for teenage single mothers who need extra help, could be at risk of closure.
In Parliament, Labour have opposed the changes and called for a total exemption for all social housing schemes from the Local Housing Allowance cap. Opposition-led debates in both January and July forced the Government to delay the plans and rethink.
This week we heard further concessions from the Government. Social rents being linked to LHA has been pushed back again, to 2019. While housing benefit will no longer cover the extra costs that come with supported housing, a new ring-fenced “top-up” funding scheme will be created and managed by local authorities.
It is good that the Government are beginning to recognise the problems that this policy would cause for the supported housing sector, but this still isn’t good enough.
The lack of detail about the “top-up” system suggests that this could be a confusing extra layer of bureaucracy which hurts funding for providers and creates instability for tenants.
Funding is key as well. The Government has a record of ring-fencing funding for a specific purpose, handing it to local authorities, and then cutting it to the point where Councils can no longer meet demand. Given that George Osborne originally designed the cap as a way to cut money in the budget it’s a real possibility that this “top-up” concession will not be properly funded.
The Government need to clear up this uncertainty. People who have suffered domestic abuse, veterans, older people, disabled people, the homeless, former offenders, veterans and young people leaving care are all being put at risk without a clear package of support.
Labour will continue to hold the Government to account over this, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in this policy to take part in the upcoming consultation.