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A research report on Housing Benefit and supported accommodation has ...
A research report on Housing Benefit and supported accommodation has

been published. Supported accommodation offers services to

tenants with special needs that are not normally found in mainstream

housing. Many of these tenants are in receipt of Housing Benefit.

Housing Benefit administration is a complex process. The

administration is further complicated if a claimant lives in

supported accommodation because some, but not all, service charges

are eligible for Housing Benefit. For example, service charges which

relate to the fabric of the dwelling are eligible but individual

assistance such as administration of medicine is ineligible. Charges

have to be considered by Housing Benefit officers in order to

determine what is eligible for benefit. Previous research shows that

local authorities, who administer Housing Benefit on behalf of the

Department, deal with these types of claims in different ways.

New research was commissioned as part of an interdepartmental review

of the funding of supported accommodation. It estimated the number

of Housing Benefit recipients in supported accommodation in Great

Britain and the amount of Housing Benefit expenditure used to pay for

services which were ineligible for benefit. An innovative

methodology was devised for the research using data from the

financial year 1996/97.

Little was initially known about the tenants in the supported

accommodation sector in Great Britain, in particular there was no

exhaustive list of accommodation providers catering for Housing

Benefit recipients. Therefore, information was collected directly

from a sample of 36 local authorities by asking them to 'brainstorm'

and consult documents to compile a list of local providers. Local

authorities then checked their records to see if any Housing Benefit

recipients currently lived at those addresses. From these a sample

of 1,000 claimants was selected.

In order to estimate the amount of Housing Benefit expenditure spent

on ineligible service charges, detailed information was collected

from accommodation providers housing the selected claimants. The

different elements of the charge to the tenant were broken down by

means of a telephone interview and a self-completion datasheet. This

included information on services provided and the costs to the

landlord of providing them.

A new assessment of Housing Benefit was made using this information

for each selected case and this was compared to the amount of benefit

actually paid to the tenant. From this, an estimate was produced of

the amount of Housing Benefit used to pay for ineligible services in

the whole of Great Britain. Figures for Great Britain were based on

local authorities' estimates of the number of Housing Benefit

recipients in supported accommodation.

However, a key finding of the research was that Housing Benefit staff

varied markedly in their knowledge of supported accommodation schemes

in their area and probably underestimated the number of benefit

claimants in supported accommodation. This meant that it was

unreliable to base expenditure estimates solely on this information.

The figures in the report were therefore supplemented by new data on

the amount of supported housing. Hence, two sets of estimates are

presented in the report.

Other main findings were:

- On the basis of information provided by the sample of local

authorities, there were some 123,500 Housing Benefit claimants in

supported accommodation in Britain in 1996/7. An adjusted estimate,

derived from official housing statistics, set the figure at 447,000.

The difference was most likely due to under-counting of claimants in

sheltered accommodation.

- Some of the Housing Benefit paid to between 70,000 and 300,000

claimants was found to be meeting the cost of support services not

eligible for benefit. Five to 10 per cent of Housing Benefit claims

from people in supported accommodation were judged to be wholly

soundly based. A further 12 to 14 per cent were accurate to within

£3 per week.

- On the basis of the lower estimate which draws purely on survey

data, between£120m and£160m of Housing Benefit was paid out in

1996/7 to cover service charges that were not in fact eligible for

support through Housing Benefit. Using the higher population

estimate, these figures increase to between£360m and£480m.

- In some cases, Housing Benefit was not meeting the charges for

eligible support services in full. On the basis of the survey data

for 1996/7, additional Housing Benefit of between£85m and£115m

could have been paid towards these services. Using the higher

population estimate, these figures increase to between£155m and


- Most supported accommodation was available equally to men and

women, although 27 per cent and 15 per cent of schemes catered solely

for men and women respectively. Schemes typically provided

accommodation to a wide range of age groups. Although age

restrictions were the exception, about a quarter of schemes were for

residents who were aged 60 or over. Only about four per cent of

schemes described the age range of their residents as exclusively 20

years of age or younger.


1. In August 1997, the DSS introduced new

interim regulations covering funding of services in supported

accommodation through Housing Benefit. The interim regulations were

designed to protect the supported accommodation sector pending the

outcome of a long-term review of the funding of supported

accommodation. It allowed Housing Benefit to continue to pay for

reasonable charges for general counselling and support for claimants

in existing accommodation.

2. On 31st March 1999, Alistair Darling announced the government's

decision to proceed with the Supporting People proposals, as outlined

in the recent consultation paper. This proposed replacing the

current complicated funding arrangements with one single budget

targeted specifically at support services for vulnerable people,

which would be administered by local authorities. Supporting People

will be implemented from April 2003.

To pave the way to these proposals, a new transitional Housing

Benefit scheme will be implemented from April 2000. This will have

wider coverage than existing regulations, and will gather the

information needed to inform the funding requirements for the

long-term proposals. The current interim regulations will be

extended to April 2000 to enable the effective implementation of the

transitional scheme.

3. The study is based on an analysis of service charges paid by a

random sample of Housing Benefit recipients living in supported

accommodation in England, Scotland and Wales. The sample was drawn

from 36 local authority areas. Representatives of over 500 providers

of accommodation were interviewed and a detailed breakdown of charges

obtained from nearly 200 accommodation schemes. The research was

carried out by the Social Security Unit at the Centre for Research in

Social Policy, Loughborough University.

4. Housing Benefit and Supported Accommodation is published on 22nd

July in the Department of Social Security's Research Series (report

number 93). It is available from Corporate Document Services, ISBN 1

84123 104 5, priced£31.50. A free summary is available from Kailash

Mehta at the DSS Social Research Branch (0171 962 8558).

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