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Housing: Vulnerable People

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 13 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to ensure that there is an increase in the level of supported housing across England so that the needs of vulnerable people are met.

My Lords, this Government value the important role that supported housing plays in protecting vulnerable people and are committed to encouraging further development to meet future demand. That is why we are boosting supply, with more than 14,000 new homes in this Parliament.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government understand the need to provide adequate support and funding for this vital specialist service. Unfortunately, the Government’s recent announcement has not provided the level of certainty that tenants and the sector need and had been hoping for. It is vital that local authorities receive enough devolved funding and that there is a long-term ring-fence around this money to pay for housing costs. Can the Minister clarify how all vulnerable groups will be protected in a system where priorities will be different in each local authority? How can providers and lenders have the certainty they need to build much-needed new specialist housing, and how can we make sure that money is not lost to services and spent on complicated administration?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is obviously well acquainted with this area. I congratulate her on the role that she fulfils as chair of the National Housing Federation, which we regard as a valuable ally. She will know that we are going out to consultation specifically on the local housing allowance cap, which I think is what she refers to. I hope very much that she and others will engage in that because we are putting the same amount of money in there to ensure that we protect this sector. It will be ring-fenced and we can discuss in the consultation the particular nature of that ring-fence.

My Lords, at the Rethink mental health hostel in Somerset people are allowed to stay for only nine months, and then moved on despite their mental health not having improved. Staffing levels are one member of staff to 55 units of accommodation. Can the Minister please reassure the House that he is aware of and working actively to remedy this situation, which exists across the country?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is certainly right to accentuate the fact that there are particular challenges in relation to mental health. We work closely with Mencap and I can provide her with the reassurance she seeks: we are seeking to ensure that that area is protected.

My Lords, how many of the new houses will have suitable accommodation for people who use wheelchairs—for instance, lavatories downstairs—if they have had a stroke or become disabled, so that they can stay in their own homes?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to address the protection of people with vulnerabilities. Eight thousand of the new supported homes are for people who are vulnerable, elderly and with disabilities, so that will be at the forefront of our mind. More than 6,000 specialised homes are being provided by the Department of Health’s care and support specialised housing programme. I am sure that the noble Baroness’s message will be heard very loudly and taken care of.

My Lords, while it is good news to hear that we are encouraging more of this, can the Minister assure us that everything is being done to ensure that where a property that has been adapted with special aids is no longer required because the person has died or moved on to long-term care, someone else with special needs gets it and it does not just get lost to this sector?

My Lords, noble Lords will appreciate that a lot of these issues are dealt with at a local level, so this is not prescribed centrally. It is for local areas to ensure that their particular needs are taken care of. What my noble friend has referred to appears to be common sense. I will seek to assure her by letter that this is common practice. I am sure it is, but there is diversity and it is a matter for local authorities.

My Lords, last year Her Majesty’s Government decided to delay the 1% reduction in social rents for supported housing in order to assess the impact it would have on the sector. The move was widely welcomed around this House. Now that Her Majesty’s Government have decided to press ahead with largely the same proposal—there are one or two exceptions, I grant—will the Minister consider publishing the detailed analysis of that assessment to allay fears that the reduction threatens the viability of present and future supported housing schemes?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that there are exemptions. They are perhaps more far-reaching than he suggests. They cover refuges, almshouses, co-ops, fully mutuals and community land trusts. On areas that need particular care, we have been working very closely with Polly Neate of Women’s Aid in relation to refuges and Katherine Sacks-Jones of Agenda. I will take away the particular point he referred to, but we are content that we have protected the areas that need protection.

My Lords, will the Minister clarify whether during the consultation stage there will be a thorough analysis of the potential disbenefits to the NHS if there is insufficient supported housing for quick discharge for a range of people who are currently waiting for suitable accommodation and who are therefore dependent on the NHS?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to address concern that this is interactive with the health area. This is something we touched on in a debate earlier this week. The consultation that will open shortly in relation to the cap and the way that we ensure that the additional costs are taken care of will be transparent and collaborative. It will be a very open process, so I ask noble Lords to ensure that they, as well as outside organisations, participate in it so that we get this right and are able to protect the sector and the variations that exist between different local authorities.

My Lords, what discussions have taken place between the noble Lord’s department and the Department of Health about the impact on social care budgets that is now being felt throughout the country? Clearly, the work of social services and adult care is closely related to the conditions under which the residents of sheltered housing live.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that there is interaction with the Department of Health. We discuss this with it, as we do with the Department for Work and Pensions. There is interaction across a lot of areas and, as we found earlier in the week when we debated this, this of course has great impact on the health and well-being of tenants, as well as in education and many other areas. We have to take this in the round and have a holistic approach.