How supported accommodation is defined is especially important now because residents of this accommodation – which includes many people with learning disabilities – are protected from some negative aspects of the current programme of welfare reform:
- The housing costs of claimants living in housing that is accepted as falling within the definition (see box right) are excluded from the calculation of the benefit cap. The cap is £350 per week for single claimants and £500 for couples and single parents. A number of major benefits are counted in calculating the cap, including housing benefit.
- The spare room subsidy in social housing, known as ‘the bedroom tax’, does not apply to exempt accommodation. So, for example, a resident in exempt accommodation who has a spare room for an occasional overnight carer, such as during a temporary deterioration in their health, would not be affected.
Other advantages that residents of exempt accommodation will have, unlike most claimants, are being able to get their help with housing costs paid direct to their landlord, and getting their benefits, eg. employment and support allowance, more frequently than monthly.
The government decided to exclude housing costs from the benefit cap where it is paying for supported exempt accommodation because the rent charged is higher due to the support or care being provided. In addition, people in need of supported housing are far less likely to be able to meet the major policy intention of the benefit cap, ie. incentivising claimants to seek and find paid employment to independently meet their living and housing costs.
The fear is that tenants in supported housing outside the definition of exempt accommodation will fall victim to the benefit cap and will not be able to afford to live in the housing as the costs of providing support are higher. As a result, providers of supported housing may fail as they will lose tenants and not be able to attract new ones because they could not afford to meet the extra costs of living in the accommodation.
There is controversy that some types of supported housing will not be accepted as exempt by housing benefit departments and the DWP. This could be either because the level of support provided is deemed to be inadequate, or because the contractual arrangements for the provision of support fall outside the definition of supported ‘exempt’ accommodation.
[su_box title=”Supported exempt accommodation – definition from the Department of Work and Pensions” style=”soft” box_color=”#04a1da” radius=”0″]
“Supported ‘exempt’ accommodation refers to certain supported housing but not all of it [our emphasis]. It is defined in legislation as either:
- a resettlement place, or:
- accommodation provided by a county council, housing association, registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or person acting on their behalf provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.
Such accommodation includes group homes, hostels, refuges, sheltered housing, supported living complexes and adapted housing for the disabled provided by housing associations, registered charities, voluntary organisations and county councils.” [/su_box]
For example, it is common for councils to commission the support and/or care direct from a support provider who may not be the landlord. The tenant may manage their own care and support through a personal budget commissioning the service from an organisation that is not also their landlord. Either way, these examples may fail the test for exempt accommodation because the landlord is not ‘providing’ the support or care.
The biggest official reassurance for housing providers came in April when Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, told the housing charity Homeless Link that he intended to “protect providers from any unintended consequences” of welfare reforms. He said that DWP wishes to protect social landlords such as refuges and hostels, where “arrangements may not meet the precise definition of exempt accommodation but in all other ways the provision is identical to that which does.”
The most recent news came in September in housing benefit circular HB A19/2013. This announced that transitional provisions have been brought into force so that the housing costs of tenants living in exempt accommodation will continue to be met through housing benefit, even where they are entitled to universal credit. It says: “This is intended to be an interim measure while the feasibility of a localised funding system for housing-related costs for those in supported housing is explored.”
So the noises coming from the government appear to be that they wish to see the situation resolved, especially before housing benefit is abolished. However, in the meantime it is possible that there will be some decisions from housing benefit departments refusing to accept that a claimant is living in supported exempt accommodation. Affected clients will need to get help and support with challenging such decisions.
Charlie Callanan is a welfare rights adviser with over 15 years experience in the charitable and statutory sectors.
[su_quote]The fear is that tenants in supported housing outside the definition of exempt accommodation will fall victim to the benefit cap and will not be able to afford to live in the housing as the costs of providing support are higher.[/su_quote]