Here is an open letter to the next Housing Minister who will take up this most challenging of portfolios after the election.
Congratulations on your appointment by the Prime Minister. You will know what a major crisis we are facing in housing, and you will have many competing demands, most coming from loud and powerful voices. Please may I make a plea that you consider the uncertain future of residents, current and future, of the country’s specialist supported housing schemes? They are not the loud or the powerful, but how we as a country treat such people is a sign of what kind of society we have.
Previously it was announced that the charges for specialist supported housing would be capped at the level of Local Housing Allowance. A senior civil servant has said that the reason for using LHA is that it I “already there” and that it “doesn’t cost the government anything to set up”. He said it wasn’t a great reason but it was the best he had.
LHA was established, originally at the 50the centile for rents paid in the private sector, later reduced to the 30th centile. LHA rates were subsequently frozen and in areas like Brighton and Hove they probably equate to less than the 10th centile. For example, the average one bed flat in the city is £971 per month, LHA is £612.08.
Putting aside the fact that the private rented sector is increasingly unaffordable, and the chances of securing social housing is disappearing over the horizon, LHA is a singularly unsuitable tool for setting charges in specialist supported housing.
This is not just my view but one shared by two cross-party committees which have called for these plans to be scrapped.
I believe it is almost unprecedented for the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee to publish a joint report such as this, illustrating how wrong this judgement by the Department for Work and Pensions is. The Committees have said a “supported housing allowance” should be used instead of the LHA.
In 2011 I wrote an item on my blog in which I warned that the number of rough sleepers, then 37 in Brighton and Hove, would massively increase in the next few years because of a combination of factors. We now have between 140 and 150 in spite of excellent joint working between the City Council and very many third sector organisations.
Should the LHA cap be imposed on specialist supported housing, this number will inevitably increase.
The DWP is consulting on protections for such services, but these will inevitably be bureaucratic and expensive to operate. A simple supported housing allowance could resolve the matter or, better still, scrap the proposal altogether and provide some reassurance and stability to the most vulnerable in our society who most need reassurance and stability.