LOUISE BRAY'S THOUGHTS
There are too few homes to meet existing demand for good-quality housing. Changes in tax breaks and increasing borrowing and building costs for landlords, housing associations and property developers have created a perfect storm which has compounded an already existing housing crisis.
A lack of planning and joined-up work between Local Authorities and Integrated Care Boards around housing for people with disabilities has also added to this issue, but this is slowly changing.
New developments take several years to complete, and there is still a long way to go to plug the chronic shortage. No single agency will have all the solutions to housing: this needs to be a combined effort between care providers, commissioners, Local Authorities, advocates, family members and with a person-centred approach.
There are a wide range of options available, and it is important to consider all of these to work out what will work best for the person being supported.
The process is time-consuming and complex, so plenty of time to look for something that is going to work is needed. We have had many conversations with families explaining that we will not be able to find housing quickly.
In an emergency, this is not always an easy conversation to be had, particularly if someone is about to lose their placement or is living in temporary accommodation. But it is important to manage expectations and to be honest.
It is often not realistic with current market conditions that a home can be found quickly, and we usually advise families that this process can take between six months and two years.
We regularly hear from families that they are being offered a residential placement or shared accommodation for their loved ones. There is nothing wrong with either of these options, and they work for many people, but we support people with complex needs like autism, who may struggle to live with someone else, so these will typically not work for them.
These are often suggested due to a dearth of other options, but placing people together is also more cost-effective. After years of austerity Central Government and Local Authority finances are under pressure, so naturally, these will be preferable. That does not change the fact that people cannot and should not be expected to live in housing that does not meet their needs and help them achieve their aspirations.
We are advocates of REACH standards:
For us as a nation to adhere to these standards, the shortage of good quality housing for people with long-term disabilities needs to be urgently addressed. There is no quick fix to this issue which means that all people involved in a person’s care must work together and think creatively about how their housing needs are met.
Ensuring the person is on the housing register in their local area is important. Housing registers provide a vital service in providing the local population with housing at affordable rents. There is a lot of demand, and housing stock levels often fall way short of this and may also not be suitable for someone with high support needs. That said, it is another avenue that could provide a solution. It also provides another function; it ensures that the Local Authority gets an accurate picture of the housing need, and they can then plan for housing needs for the future accordingly.
Housing Associations that provide housing specifically for people with long-term disabilities, such as Golden Lane Housing, are an excellent option as housing is fit for purpose, and they will carry out the tenancy management (repairs, rent collection and so on). Again, demand will often outstrip supply, but we have been fortunate to find housing for some of the people we support via this route at relatively short notice.
Consider renting through a private landlord for a quick solution. Bear in mind, though, that some will not consider renting to someone on benefits, and the private rental sector is more expensive.
Local Housing Allowance rates will often be lower, so Universal Credit will not always cover these rents, so working out how the shortfall will be covered will need to be considered. The new tax year starts in April, and Local Authorities will be reviewing local housing allowance rates. The hope is that they may look to increase these levels to make social renting an attractive option for landlords in their local area.
Security of tenure in the private rental sector can also be an issue as Assured Shorthold Tenancies are a minimum of six months, so landlords can serve notice if, for example, they wish to sell. There are several other things to consider if working with a private landlord, such as who will carry out the housing management, and adaptations required, such as a wet room, grab rails and wheelchair access. This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of what will need to be discussed with a landlord.
Purchasing a home for a loved one is a great idea for a long-term secure solution, but this will require sufficient funds, and we recognise that this will not be possible for many families. Another possibility is shared ownership via the HOLD scheme – home ownership for people with long-term disabilities – which is funded by Homes England.
The scheme does not operate everywhere, but if it does, it gives people on benefits the opportunity to own their own homes. The tenancy management will then sit with a Housing Association.
Some people we support have also been successful in receiving money from the NHS capital grant, part of the Transforming Care Agenda, to purchase a home. Again, demand is high for these, so other options need to be thoroughly explored.
For parent carers, there are a lot of support groups out there. These provide forums where parents can access lots of helpful hints and tips from other parents. These are safe spaces to talk about personal experiences of caring for loved ones and the challenges of navigating a complex health and social care system.
Groups like Bringing Us Together have regular workshops and newsletters with a wealth of support and information. We recently attended a workshop on behalf of a family on house purchases and adaptations which was incredibly insightful. It reinforced that we were on the right track in our housing search but also gave us lots of other insights and information that we had not thought of before.
We are passionate about creating more possibilities for the people we support. As a care provider, we have provided support in every type of setting, so we know first-hand how detrimental the wrong type of housing can be.
The human cost to people living in unsuitable housing or placements is far too high. This is almost always stressful for the person, and this often means an increase in behaviours that challenge.
They may be far from family and loved ones, and if in a long-term hospital placement, this will see people becoming institutionalised as they live their lives in restrictive settings. The impact and repercussions of this can take years to unpick, particularly if someone struggles to articulate what they are thinking or feeling.
This is something that must change, and this can only happen by working together and with rigorous planning so that we get this right for the people we support. We have also seen how the right housing can be transformative and how people thrive when they are in a home of their choice, with a provider of their choice and choosing how they want to live their life each day.
At Catalyst Care Group, we believe everyone has a right to a home where they can access support and activities that are important to them. It is vital that people live in an environment that suits their specific needs and allows them to be part of their community. We believe in delivering humanised care, and housing plays a key role in this.
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