Supported Housing
Becky Elton
March 5, 2024

Supported Housing Regulation – What Next?

A range of new legislation and guidance is focussing on the quality and regulation of Supported Housing in England,

A range of new legislation and guidance is focussing on the quality and regulation of Supported Housing in England, it’s an emerging picture but we are starting to understand how it all fits together, as well as the pros and cons for the sector.

Those of us who have been around for more years that we’d like to admit to may remember the advent of the Supporting People fund, that not only brought with it ringfenced funding for supported housing but also a much tighter quality and inspection regime than we had seen before in the sector. Now, sadly, we are not returning to those golden years of ringfenced funding, however, after years of reducing capacity for local authorities to inspect and assess supported housing provision, 2024 will bring a new era of regulation for providers of supported accommodation in England.

Firstly, we’ll see services for 16- and 17-year-olds come under the remit of Ofsted. The recently released guidance outlines the criteria that will be used to assess supported accommodation for 16 and17 year olds. Ofsted has delayed the start of inspections from April to September so that providers have time to digest the guidance but also because of the unexpectedly large volume of registration applications they have received. Rather than using the much discussed and maligned one word Ofsted judgements (Outstanding, Good etc), the inspections of accommodation for 16- and 17-year-olds will be given one of 3 Outcomes, in summary:

• Consistently strong service delivery leads to typically positive experiences and progress for children.

• Inconsistent quality of service delivery adversely affects some children’s experiences, and this may limit their progress.

• Serious or widespread weaknesses lead to significant concerns about the experiences and progress of children.

This feels like a more nuanced and helpful approach than the one-word labels, and I hope it will recognise that resources and quality of buildings varying massively between services, which is often out of the provider’s control. Broadly the evaluation criteria seem to be clear, sensible, and achievable, although there is one statement - “Children have access to specialist help, as required, including support for their mental health” - which is likely to be entirely outside of the control of the supported accommodation provider.

Turning to the wider supported accommodation sector, we are awaiting the consultation on the implementation of the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Act, which was passed in August 2023. The Act is intended to address the issue of poor-quality exempt accommodation and will introduce systems for licensing by local authorities, standards for support and a requirement for local authorities to develop strategic supported housing plans. The Act is welcome; I’m sure many of us have been involved in picking up the pieces for an individual or an area where private providers have opened large buildings purporting to be supported but are at best just accommodation and at worst dangerous places to live for the vulnerable people who are placed there.

However, we had expected consultation on this in the Autumn and then in early 2024, but nothing so far. I suspect the delay is because it is a complex area. Can you have the same standards and outcomes framework for emergency homelessness accommodation and long term supported housing for people with learning disability and for sheltered accommodation for older people? What happens when the provision, or elements of the provision, is already regulated by Ofsted or by the CQC? And of course, there is the resource issue – who is going to pay for the inspection regime when the commissioners of services are already overstretched and overseeing multiple services and service types?

In the mix of all of this, we also have new regulation and requirements for social housing, which will apply to many providers of supported accommodation. Post-Grenfell and other tragedies in social housing including the death of Awaab Ishak due to damp and mould, the government has rightly focussed on increasing standards and requiring social landlords to listen and respond to tenant concerns. The Social Housing (Regulation) Act brings in new and revised Consumer standards from April 2024. The most recent consultation which will impact the supported housing sector is on the Competence and Conduct standard.  The consultation proposes Registered Providers (RPs) must have a policy on managing and developing skills, a code of conduct for staff and specific levels of qualifications for all housing management staff and senior leadership and must ensure that anyone delivering housing management on their behalf has suitably qualified staff. So, if a supported accommodation provider has a management agreement with a RP, that organisation will also have to demonstrate it meets the standards.

For medium/larger organisations, the Apprenticeship Levy can be able to be used to fund these qualifications, but smaller providers (those with a pay bill of less than £3m per year) may have to shoulder the cost. It may also see the sector having to shift its staffing models. Often housing management and support are carried out by the same role, but that might mean you need all of your team to have a qualification. That’s not a bad thing but you may already want them to have a qualification in care or support, and even the most dedicated worker is not going to have time to do simultaneous accredited qualifications. So, you may end up splitting Housing Management and Support roles in order to ensure you meet the standards. Although the recruitment issues the sector has seen since the pandemic seem to be improving, many organisations are still seeing a high turnover of staff. Qualifications are a good thing for retaining staff, and they give people more opportunities, so to ensure organisations keep good, qualified people, they’ll need to make sure pay and benefits are competitive, which in turn is reliant on resources coming in, usually through rents and contracts.

One of the great things about this sector is the range of providers, from the tiny local service that sprang up out of need in a community, to the big providers and RPs who can bring resource and a loud voice to influence policy.  This swathe of regulation has the potential to increase quality across the board and make sure more people in more places are supported to live as independently as possible and lead fulfilling lives. But it also increases burdens on a sector that has seen year on year of cuts to budgets since 2010 coupled with the recent cost of living crisis that has made buildings incredibly expensive to run and pushed up staffing costs, often with no increase to contract prices. I hope that this will be recognised and the costs of both implementing and inspecting are funded, especially for smaller, local providers, and the sector is supported and supports each other to focus on the people who need it most.