Up to 82,000 specialist homes for most vulnerable residents, including domestic violence victims, at threat of closure. Written by Patrick Butler for The Guardian
Tens of thousands of tenants in sheltered housing, including frail older residents, domestic violence victims and people with mental illness may become homeless as a result of benefit cuts, landlords have said.
Government plans to cap housing benefit for social rented properties from April will put an estimated 82,000 specialist homes under threat of closure, leaving an estimated 50,000 vulnerable tenants who are unable to work without support.
Housing associations and charities have warned of closures on “a massive and unprecedented scale” unless ministers exempt supporting housing schemes from the housing benefit cap.
David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents English housing associations, said: “If this cap applies to specialist housing, tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be unable to afford the cost of their home and care.
“Huge numbers of people will be affected from older people and dementia patients, to disabled people and women fleeing domestic violence – they cannot go without specialist care and support.”
The NHF said that although an estimated 50,000 more supported homes were needed over the next decade as a result of a rapidly ageing population, 2,400 planned new homes had already been scrapped as a result of the cap.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said the cap would undermine government plans to put specialist domestic abuse refuges on a financially sustainable footing. “An estimated 12,000 women will stay in refuge every year, more often than not, with their children,” she said. “Uncertainty about the future of housing benefit payments is already directly impacting on services plans for the future and a risk to the future of refuge provision is a risk to women and children’s lives.
“We are urging government to make clear their intentions to exempt domestic violence refuges from these regulations as a matter of urgency.”
According to the NHF, about 50,000 households could be affected over the course of a year, losing an average of £68 each. It estimates 82,000 homes could be forced to close, equivalent to more than four in 10 of all supported housing in England.
The cap, which will bring housing benefit for social housing tenants in line with the private sector, was announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, in the autumn statement in November as a way to “prevent social landlords from charging inflated rent for their properties”.
Housing associations argue that the higher rent charged for supported housing reflects the cost of intensive care services provided by specialist housing staff. If the services close, tenants will be forced into residential and NHS care at an annual net cost to the taxpayer of hundreds of millions.
The government has argued that tenants can apply for local authority discretionary housing payments to make up the rent shortfall, but landlords say this short-term discretionary fund, which is also used to help tenants affected by the bedroom tax, is already overstretched.
The Placeshapers network of community-based housing associations warned that the financial losses triggered by the cap would lead to “massive and unprecedented” closures. “That would be a tragedy at a human level and the knock-on impact on other services such as health and social care would be substantial,” it said.
Andrew Redfern, chief executive of Nottinghamshire-based specialist housing association Framework, told Inside Housing magazine: “It would mean the end of supported housing. All our schemes would close, and I think all others would as well.”
An anonymous social landlord told the magazine: “It [the proposed cap] is absolutely catastrophic. Discretionary housing payments and cross-subsidy go nowhere near addressing this. Our service will close down if this isn’t reversed.”
A DWP spokesman said: “This is unnecessary scaremongering, which does nothing to help those it purports to represent. The truth is that nothing will change until 2018.”
John Healey, the shadow housing minister, said: “George Osborne has put homes for thousands of very vulnerable people at risk by this crude cut in housing benefit. Housing bodies who help the elderly, disabled people, the homeless, those with mental heath problems and women fleeing domestic violence all say that schemes will close unless the chancellor backtracks on this plan.”
Source: The Guardian