This week, St Mungo’s launched our Save Hostels Rebuild Lives campaign, calling on the government to properly consider the damaging effect changes to funding for supported housing could have on homeless people. Take five minutes to find out why, and what you can do to help.
Many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness need specialist support.
This expert support is provided by dedicated staff in supported housing – hostels – but these services are at risk.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, are planning to present proposals to change funding for supported housing to government in a matter of months.
St Mungo’s believes these changes will cause irreparable damage to essential services and may even cause some to close.
A route out of rough sleeping
Full disclosure? St Mungo’s provides supported housing services that could be affected by current proposals, which will compound problems faced by projects already being challenged by a reduction in rent allowance that came into effect in April 2017.
In 2016, St Mungo’s housed 4,120 people, over half of whom have slept rough. Many of our clients have multiple and complex needs, and for them, recovery is more than a roof.
Most funding for supported housing services for single homeless people comes from a combination of housing benefit and local authority budget for support they commission.
Supported housing under threat
The proposals involve reducing people’s benefit entitlement, but they don’t take into account the way support is funded. They will leave supported housing services even more reliant on entirely discretionary funding from already stretched local council budgets.
With no legal requirement to provide vulnerable homeless people with supported housing, many services have lost their funding. Analysis by the National Audit Office shows that between 2010/11 and 2014/15 funding for housing-related support fell by 45% across single-tier and county councils. 
There are many reasons to be concerned by this. One argument is that without the right support at the right time, people can get stuck in damaging cycles of homelessness, making recovery all the more difficult. Another is that causing the reduction of available places in supported housing makes no economic sense.
The existing proposals suggest a cap on housing benefits based on local housing allowance rates, which is tied to rent levels in the private sector. This does not take into account the reality that the costs of providing supported housing are similar across the country.
St Mungo’s believes that basing the system purely on LHA rates will provide little incentive to develop supported housing for homeless people in low rent areas. This would create a situation whereby availability of supported housing could be limited in places where it would be easier for residents to find affordable housing when they are ready to move on.
A funding system that does not take into account local demand – or does not ensure that need is properly assessed – not only ruins lives, it is more expensive. Research published by the National Housing Federation found a shortfall of 16,692 places in supported housing for working-aged people in 2015/16. The research estimated that in the last financial year, the shortfall in supported housing places cost the taxpayer £361 million. 
The right support for recovery
“Making the service fit the need is really important.” – Rob
Rob told me how he spent 20 years bouncing between sofas and services ill-equipped to help him recover and properly manage his mental health. Finally, he came to a service we run that worked for him. He’s since moved into independent living, is engaged to be married and is working as an advocate for homeless people.
We know that sometimes people find certain environments challenging. Sometimes, people move between services because their support needs have changed or because services close.
Recovery is a process, and moving into supported accommodation after living on the streets can be a difficult transition, but these services save lives.
We are urging the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Work and Pensions to:
- Develop a sustainable and secure new funding system that helps vulnerable people get off the streets for good
- Introduce a legal requirement for local authorities to assess need and plan for appropriate supported housing provision in their area
- Ensure that the system is fully transparent and accountable to central government
With the right support at the right time, people can recover and rebuild their lives after being homeless.
Sign our petition to #SaveHostels here
 National Audit Office (2014) The impact of funding reductions on local authorities https://www.nao.org.uk/report/the-impact-funding-reductions-local-authorities/