Last week I wrote about a particular threat to specialist support housing from a proposal to cap rents in these projects to that of Local Housing Allowance (Making specialist supported housing unviable, including the new homelessness scheme in Brighton). These projects, including our homelessness services, mental health services and addiction services, depend on the rents we can charge, paid for by housing benefit, in order to offer our services to people who could not afford to pay the charges in private sector services.
Now an influential group, Placeshapers, a network for more than 100 housing associations (BHT is not a member), has called on the government to exempt social housing rents from the new caps being proposed. It says that the homes 440,000 vulnerable people would be put at risk if a 1% cut to social rents and the capping of housing benefit at local housing allowance levels were to go ahead.
The rents charged in these services might appear on the high side but when you look at the savings to the NHS, the police, Court service, etc. and changes that people make in gaining greater independence, education, training and work, then the investment the government makes has a huge impact, with savings of £4 for every £1 spent.
Now another group, the Housing and Support Alliance (which represents 154 organisations, including housing associations and councils), has written to Brandon Lewis, the Housing Minister, to ask for more certainty about the viability of long-term funding and has warned that plans to rehouse people with learning difficulties currently in very expensive hospital accommodation could be jeopardised if the government does not confirm an exemption for vulnerable people from the housing benefit cap.
Take as an example, BHT’s Addiction Services. It costs around £860,000 each year to provide accommodation and rehabilitation services to around 120 people each year. That’s £7,166 per person. Of these, two thirds will complete the programme successfully, and of them, over 60% will be alcohol and drug free a year after they leave us.
A figure from the Home Office suggested that the average drug user committed crime valued at £65,000 per annum. Let’s not even consider the costs of ambulance call outs, attendances at A&E, unplanned hospital admissions, long term blood-born diseases, police time, the cost of the Courts, and time spent in prison. If just 50 of our residents achieve on going abstinence and a crime free life, the savings to society are phenomenal … and on going.
The introduction of the cap at Local Housing Allowance levels is not due to be implemented until April 2018. There is still time for the government to see sense.
The warnings being given to government are universal. At the moment the government has said there will be no exemptions. It is a bit like the little boy, seeing the troops march off to war, saying with great pride, “Look at my dad. He’s the only one in step!”.