My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I speak in favour of Amendment 51, which seeks to protect schemes that house some of the most vulnerable people in the country from a damaging cut to their rents.
In answer to a question from me on Monday on the associated issue of the local housing allowance cap, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, referred to a review of the supported housing sector. That review was referred to again today in another place. Indeed, much has been said today in another place on both rent cuts and the LHA cap. It is only right that we fairly consider what has been said in another place and factor that into our discussions here. Referring to the review, the Government said that it would report urgently by the end of March. In addition, we have heard of a one-year delay in the implementation of the 1% rent cut for supported housing. This extra year’s delay is welcome, since it means that incomes will not be reduced as much as feared. Unfortunately, that is only at the margins when measured against the impact of the LHA cap on supported housing as announced in the spending review. This will have a much more significant and lasting impact, and is a threat to the very existence of much supported housing.
The National Housing Federation has been pressing the Government to urgently clarify that the LHA will apply only to working-age tenants in general needs accommodation. The Government have not done so. A survey of NHF members showed that this lack of certainty will result in 156,000 homes becoming unviable and being forced to close—41% of the sector—while 2,400 homes planned for development will now not be built. I find it hard to believe that it can be even remotely possible that it is the Government’s intention to put all this supported housing at risk. The impact on vulnerable people will be acute: on the elderly, people with disabilities, those fleeing domestic violence and those who served our country in the Armed Forces. The knock-on impact on public services in trying to pick up the pieces will be immense. These services desperately need a long-term commitment to safeguard their future.
The Government had the opportunity today in another place to set this right and clarify their intentions. They did not do it. The Government will carry out a review of how supported housing is funded—excellent. But surely the purpose of a review is to think first and only then act. Why create this level of uncertainty leaving housing association boards, which have to take decisions about future provision now, completely blind-sided about whether or when the cap may now be introduced? A one-year delay on the rent cut, welcome though it is, may not make much difference at all on this issue. The uncertainty is having a damaging and dangerous effect now. Tough decisions are being taken already: to close supported housing schemes; not to renew contracts; and to halt development of new schemes because there is not the certainty that they will be affordable in the near future, whether that be in two years or three. Protective redundancy notices are being prepared now. No provider can risk the cost of new building unless they are confident that the rent will cover that cost.
The announcement made by the Government today will do nothing to allay the fears on this issue of housing associations or the people living in these homes. I urge the Minister to think again and announce now that the LHA cap does not apply to supported and sheltered housing. I also urge the Government, through him, to work with the sector to develop a long-term sustainable funding model for supported housing.