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Housing Welfare Services

Volume 229: debated on Friday 23 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what decision he has reached on the outcome of the consultation exercise on housing welfare services, which was conducted earlier in the current year by his Department and the Welsh Office.

When the provision of welfare services to elderly people in local authority sheltered housing was put in doubt following the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Ealing case, the Government acted immediately to provide protection. New powers were taken in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, and my Department and the Welsh Office issued a consultation paper about the long-term arrangements for local authority housing welfare services. We have now decided how to proceed, taking careful account of the information and views expressed by local authorities and others.First, we have decided to leave in place indefinitely the powers for local authorities to provide housing welfare services to their tenants. This will give housing authorities the long-term certainty that they need, and will be widely welcomed.Second, we have decided that some of the welfare services which may be provided by wardens in sheltered accommodation, and which are concerned with the provision of essential care, should no longer be charged to the housing revenue account. These services are those of the kind which involve helping tenants into and out of bed; toileting, dressing, feeding and bathing; administering medication; and nursing care. Instead, these services should be funded from the general funds of local authorities, and the appropriate public resource transfer will be considered. The exclusion of these services from the housing revenue account, will be subject to the making of an order, on which consultation will be conducted in the normal way. It will not affect authorities powers to provide these services.Remaining housing welfare services provided by wardens should be able to be charged to the housing revenue account, but local authorities will need to consider this carefully in each individual case.We are satisfied that these decisions and proposals will produce no disruption to the services provided to elderly people in sheltered housing schemes, consistent with the commitment that the Government's have given. There should be no implications for tenants' existing entitlements to housing benefit.During the consultation on wardens' welfare services in sheltered housing schemes, a broader range of issues has been drawn out, which concern the role of all social housing managers. These issues again fall into two groups. First, those which concern the powers given to housing management; and second, the source of the funds to pay for management activities.Housing managers do need the ability to use broad powers. The primary role of professional council housing management is to ensure that housing is properly utilised, is kept in good repair and that rents are collected. But in cases of special needs, and in the most difficult and challenging housing estates, the responsibility of managers covers a wide range of functions, alongside the efficient and effective delivery of the normal estate management duties. The Government have worked with local authorities, through a range of policies and programmes, to encourage and support a better life for tenants on estates. Additional services are required by these programmes. In some instances, managers may need to provide these services themselves. Often, they can better act as co-ordinators and facilitators of services provided by other agencies.It does not follow that all the costs of these additional services should be paid for from rents or from the subsidy provided by central government to housing revenue accounts. Rents are paid by tenants essentially towards housing costs, and the housing revenue account is primarily an account for the costs of meeting landlord functions. Local authorities therefore need to consider carefully, within the requirements of schedule 4 to the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which costs should be charged to their housing revenue accounts, and which should be funded from elsewhere.There has been much debate on these issues during consultation on the proposals for welfare services. It may be that some further discussion of the wider role of social housing managers would be helpful to provide a greater degree of understanding and clarity. The Government want to ensure that their policies of working with local housing authorities to assist tenants and for better housing estates remain strong. My Department and the Welsh Office will shortly consult local authority associations about how best to approach this, including whether it would be helpful to issue a departmental circular.