Effective regulation of housing providers is key, writes
Margot James MP ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on sheltered accommodation.
Published on ePolitix.com
There are around half a million households in sheltered accommodation in the UK. Yet across the country residents are finding the support they originally signed up for being gradually withdrawn. The reduction of these often vital services, such as warden support, can happen without meaningful consultation and sometimes in contradiction to contractual requirements. Worryingly this results in a situation where the older the resident becomes, and the more they come to rely on extra services, the less they can trust that those same services will remain in place.
In my constituency of Stourbridge I recently met residents who bought leaseholds on the understanding that there would be an on-site warden, and importantly that they would be consulted on any changes to this service. Instead they have seen this gradually scaled back to the point where they now have floating, offsite, by appointment only support. Incredibly, despite these cut backs they face escalating fees; leaving residents paying more for a gradually declining level of care.
For local authority housing, a key issue is the Supporting People fund. Supporting People is a grant of over £1.5bn given by central government to local authorities to help people stay in social housing. The ring fence for this grant was removed by the last government in April 2009, leaving local councils able to divert this money to other sources. This funding shortfall can perhaps explain a large proportion of the service erosion in the public sector.
Effective regulation of housing providers is a key issue for private sector sheltered accommodation. Most leasehold providers adhere to a code of practice produced by the Association of Residential Housing Managers. Understandably this can be a big selling point with potential clients who see it as safeguarding the quality of service they have signed up for. However this non-binding, self-regulated, voluntary code unfortunately offers little real protection to residents in reality, with no penalties for providers who fail to meet these recommended standards and practices.
Often residents' contracts themselves contain the right to be consulted on major changes to the services on which they depend. But it has been too easy for housing providers to withdraw services without consultation, with residents seeking to complain challenged by complex complaints procedures. Beneath this decline in services lies a real sense of disenfranchisement for residents who feel powerless to prevent changes to their living arrangements.
Some of the most vulnerable people in the UK live in sheltered housing. Yet we will continue to fail them unless we find a way to regulate housing providers adequately.