Welfare reform has thrown up many challenges but one in particular has cast a long shadow for homeless charities â€“ changes to the way housing costs are paid for when providing supported accommodation.
After months of discussion with the Department for Work and Pensions, last week the Government published changes which remove a threat that could have forced many homeless services to close.
Across the country there are hundreds of hostels and shelters which provide immediate, often short-term, accommodation to individuals who are homeless. Sometimes individuals only need housing for a few nights; other times they need support for much longer periods of time.
Providing this accommodation does not come cheap, and under the current Housing Benefit system, local authorities could help meet the rental and management costs of hostels. This funding could be paid by councils to homelessness agencies on a weekly basis, if clients only stayed for a short period of time.
The introduction of Universal Credit threatened this. Under the Governmentâ€™s initial proposals, many hostels could have been left without funding for clients who only stayed for short periods meaning the significant costs of running a hostel would not be met.
In 2012, in response to pressure from Homeless Link and others, the Government publicly recognised the need to protect supported housing for vulnerable people from the â€śunintended consequencesâ€ť of Universal Credit.
However, the way they proposed to do this was by using Benefit Regulations to make some accommodation â€śexemptâ€ť, or in other words, enabling some services to be left out of some parts of Universal Credit. The only problem was that, in our view, the definition of â€śexempt accommodationâ€ť would potentially not cover up to half of homeless services.
Many services have understandably spent the last year worrying whether they would be protected or not. There were very real risks to the financial viability of many services, which could have left thousands of societyâ€™s most vulnerable people with nowhere to turn for help.
Thankfully, we were able to persuade Government that there must be another way.
Homeless Link, together with Sitra, Womenâ€™s Aid, National Housing Federation and the CIH as the other key national sector representative bodies, has been in close dialogue with colleagues at the DWP to try and identify a solution.
The input of our members has also been key in identifying what will work on the ground. New regulations have been published which largely address our concerns and offer the same protection to almost all homelessness services.
Well, up to half of homelessness services are no longer at the financial risk they would have been had the Governments original plans gone through.
The risk that services that work with people with especially high needs could, because they are so costly, have been caught in the benefit cap has also gone.
There are still some concerns. For example, that even the new regulations could still leave a very small number of accommodation services unprotected. Weâ€™re working to address this issue but at least the news for the overwhemimg majority of homelessness services and the thousands of homeless people the sector supports is good.
Read the article on the Homeless Link website here:
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