During this time of welfare reform, the government is putting disabled people in a tight spot. Our Head of Housing, Ben Harrison, writes about the current situation across the UK for disabled people.

A portrait photo of Ben Harrison.Thousands of people with disabilities live in their own homes in the community, either with others or on their own, depending on their needs and preferences, with vast majority relying on housing benefit to pay their rent.

Housing for people with disabilities can sometimes be more expensive than other types of housing. This can be the case for a number of reasons including the need to live or avoid certain locations, the need for additional space or bedrooms, the needs for adaptations or specialist equipment to name but a few.

Even if housing is more expensive to provide, I believe it can still represent excellent value for money and really help people to achieve the outcomes they have identified and live the life that they want

As a result of the higher costs involved, some disabled people require enhanced levels of housing benefit to cover their housing costs. The current benefit regulations allow for higher levels of housing benefit to be paid, in certain circumstances and if it is genuinely needed to cover legitimate costs, using what are called specified/exempt accommodation rules to do so.

Announcement of changes in housing benefit

All governments want to control expenditure on welfare benefits and the current administration is no different in this regard, having made welfare reform a central part of their legislative programme. One of the initiatives they have previously announced is to make changes to the current housing benefit rules that cover supported housing, including the rules covering exempt accommodation.

However, despite this, changes to the regulations have yet to be announced and implemented, which has created both a great deal of uncertainty for people who already make use of these rules and has led to fewer new housing solutions for people with disabilities being created.

The impact of limiting housing benefit

In addition, recent welfare reform activities, including the decision to limit the amount of housing benefit that housing association tenants,  including those who live in supported housing, can claim to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels has created further instability, with the National Housing Federation stating that a significant percentage, as high as 50%, of supported housing schemes which require enhanced levels of housing benefit to cover their costs will close if this reform is implemented.

In response, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that it would delay the implementation of this reform for a year whilst they examined the potential impact and designed a new funding framework. Whilst it is good that DWP is taking this issue seriously, further delays have done nothing to lift the uncertainty or create a stable environment that will encourage new developments.

Helpful changes in housing

To be fair, the current government has put in place some helpful changes in this area, including widening the definition of services that are eligible for enhanced rates of housing benefit, making the two bedroom rate of LHA available to people who need a sleep in (night time support) and beginning the process of reforming the rules that govern the funding of supported housing. The DWP is acutely aware that a long term solution is needed quickly.

However, it is time that this uncertainty was brought to an end and to this end, United Response is working with other organisations in the sector to develop a new, equitable and sustainable framework for revenue funding of supported housing. This new framework will be based on ensuring that legitimate costs are met whilst providing value for money is delivered for the public purse, current tenants are protected and the right opportunities are provided for people who need housing.

Doing so will deliver significant housing opportunities to people with disabilities and will also allow the government to achieve their stated policy aims in moving forward with Transforming Care and other agendas.

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We were among 15 charities to sign a letter to the Government urging ministers to end the uncertainty over funding for supported housing. 

Read more about this letter in the news