Blog by Ian Gilders, Executive Director of Housing at Advance Housing & SupportIan Gilders is Executive Director of Housing at Advance Housing & Support 

Supported housing changes lives and has been a lifeline for many, particularly during the pandemic. But we need more homes. Homes for people with a learning disability and other long-term disabilities – homes offering independence, and support. Good quality homes to meet people’s physical and emotional needs.

Advance provide supported housing, specialising in housing, care and support for people who need it – predominantly people with a learning disability or with mental health conditions. We also have a successful programme to purchase properties for shared ownership: Home ownership for people with a long-term disability (HOLD). But this is not suitable for everyone.

It’s been a tough year, as captured in our Customer Report 2020/21, but it has really brought out the best in everyone – staff, customers and others. Our housing and support teams adapted well to an agile working world and supported our customers, particularly those most affected by the impact of the pandemic.

We spent the year carrying out proactive welfare calls. For many this was the only support they got at the height of lockdown. All too sadly, and for understandable reasons, we saw many of those who need most support from other community health and social care services losing that support.

This exacerbated the existing inequalities faced by our customer group. In 2020, Public Health England reported people with learning disabilities were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and a British Medical Association report looked at how the pandemic may make the symptoms of those with existing conditions worse.

As well as doing all we can to address the growing inequalities our customers face, our big challenge is to secure clarity on long-term funding so we can develop more homes for people who need them.

Learning Disability and Autism Housing Network

Advance is really pleased to be a founding member of the recently formed Learning Disability and Autism Housing Network (LDAHN), working alongside other like-minded providers. We are pushing for a policy framework to enable the development of quality homes and housing services, specifically for people with learning disabilities and autism. In March the LDAHN launched its Charter, including four calls to action. One of these is a call for a rent standard that supports the commissioning and funding of new supported housing for people with high support needs.

The rent standard sets out the rules for what social housing providers can charge. Experience over the years has shown that social rent or ‘affordable rent’ is just not sufficient for this type of housing, without huge levels of capital subsidy. There is an exception allowed for higher rents with no specified cap. These can be charged in properties that meet the definition of ‘specialised supported housing’ (SSH). But in this case no capital subsidy from Homes England can be used.

There is no middle ground. We are really caught between a rock and a hard place; either apply for capital subsidy but don’t get enough of it for the finances to stack up on social rents; or forego subsidy and charge much higher rents, relying on housing benefit exemptions. This problem is not theoretical. It is borne out by many years of experience across the country.

The solution

We need a realistic discussion about what could work to enable delivery of supported rented housing for people with a learning disability or autism. The solution is not that complicated. There must be acceptance that significantly higher rents are often required, with a costed justification for why. This needs to be supported by agreement that Homes England grants can still be used to support delivery.

Supported housing is amazing. That is why, this Starts at Home Day, Advance Housing and Support are calling for a strategic and realistic approach to financial regulation in this area. This will allow us to confidently invest in developing more homes with the right support, for the people who need them most.

Find out how you can support Starts at Home Day.