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THE TRANSITIONAL HOUSING BENEFIT SCHEME: A THREE WAY PROCESS

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'The Transitional Housing Benefit Scheme: A Three Way Process' is ...
'The Transitional Housing Benefit Scheme: A Three Way Process' is

published today by the department for work and pensions (DWP,

formerly the DSS) and the department for transport, local government

and the regions (DTLR, formerly DETR).

The housing benefit (HB) system currently plays a key role in the

funding of supported housing. From April 2003, the role of HB will

change, as costs of providing support for people will transfer from

HB (and other sources) to a new budget, the supporting people fund,

which will be administered on behalf of the DTLR and the Scottish

executive (SE) by local authorities (LAs). Arrangements in Wales will

include the creation of a scheme administered by the national

assembly for Wales (NAW).

The transitional housing benefit scheme (THBS) is a precursor, and

crucial to the success of the supporting people initiative. The THBS

runs from April 2000 to March 2003 and is intended to provide the

DTLR, NAW and SE with information about the current costs of

providing support through HB. This information is vital for LAs to

put in place contracts with support providers, and will be used in

the overall calculation of the national supporting people budget

('sizing the pot'). In addition, the housing related support costs

paid by people living in leasehold housing which are currently met

through income support and job seekers allowance will also, in April

2003, be transferred to the new supporting people pot.

In October 2000 the DWP and DTLR commissioned the social policy

research unit and the centre for housing policy at the university of

York to carry out qualitative research into the implementation of the

THBS by LAs. This research is not a representative survey of LAs,

providers or BA offices but does provide insight into the experiences

and views of a range of LAs/providers in early-mid 2001.

The principal aim was to gather data on how LAs had implemented the

THBS, what barriers they had encountered and how these had been or

were being overcome.

In early 2001 six LA case studies in England, Scotland and Wales were

conducted with the key stakeholders in each area. A total of 35 LA

staff and 18 provider organisations took part in the case studies.

Two BA offices were also visited. In April and May 2001 four

workshops with HB and supporting people staff from approximately 160

LAs were conducted (attended mainly by English LAs).

In direct response to the findings of this research the DTLR have

announced today that£5m from the supporting people implementation

budget will be made available to LAs in England to fund additional

staff to work on improving the process of collecting and

transferring THBS information for the supporting people programme.

Supporting people and THBS are rapidly changing areas. The report

recognised that by summer 2001 many of those responsible for

supporting people were beginning to engage with THBS. At the time of

fieldwork, some authorities had appeared to have made good progress

in implementing THBS and were developing innovative ideas for

improving the quality of their data and for dealing with remaining

barriers, though many authorities had some way to go.

This is a rapidly moving area, and the implementation of THBS has

progressed considerably in the last six months. Since spring, DTLR

has been monitoring the progress of LAs and momentum has built up

quickly. Following the further Guidance issued in March 2001, DTLR

/DWP launched a series of joint workshops to provide support and

advice to supporting people teams and HB officers. Other initiatives

to support providers and LA staff include:

- Telephone helplines provided by DWP and DTLR;

- DTLR implementation team monitoring and supporting LA progress on

supporting people;

- DTLR-funded regional staff working with the national housing

federation and SITRA to offer advice and information to

housing-related support providers locally;

- DTLR-funded grant programme set up with the housing associations

charitable trust to help very small organisations prepare for the

funding changes and engage with THBS/supporting people;

- Additional DWP guidance to be issued in autumn 2001.

The package of measures announced today will sustain progress already

made.

The findings of the research are set out below.

Findings

Implementing THBS

- Some authorities appeared to have made good progress in

implementing THBS and were developing innovative ideas for improving

the quality of their data and for dealing with remaining barriers;

- However, at the time of fieldwork a significant number of

authorities were only making slow progress in their implementation of

THBS;

Identifying Supported Accommodation Providers

Although LAs felt that they had identified supported accommodation

provision in registered social landlords (RSLs), they felt that gaps

existed in the private rented sector and sheltered accommodation;

- However, by early summer 2001 many of those responsible for

supporting people were beginning to realise the importance of the

THBS to its success;

Commitment and Resources

- Senior officers and members were not aware of and did not

understand the importance of THBS and supporting people;

- THBS requires additional resources both at the local and national

level;

Joint Working

- Joint working at both the local and national level

was necessary to implement the THBS;

- At the local level implementation of the THBS needed to be seen as

a three way communication process between the main stakeholders: HB

staff, SP lead officers and providers;

- At the national level joint working needed to occur between, among

others, DWP, DTLR, DoH and national provider institutions;

- THBS needed to be 'owned' by SP lead officers. However, HB

departments were often implementing the THBS alone. They lacked the

specialised knowledge to do this;

Reviewing Cases

- HB staff had not been proactive in the review of

supported accommodation cases which had led to identified support

costs being much lower than the government originally estimated;

- THBS has not been applied consistently between and within (shire

counties) local authorities;

- Consequently, many HB departments need to be aware that possibly

all, rent/support splits may need to be reviewed at some time;

Management Information

- It was difficult to predict when management

information would allow the accurate sizing of the pot as THBS data

(stats 121-124 provided to DWP) will under-estimate support costs

until all support cases have been reviewed;

Providers of Supported Accommodation

- Providers did not necessarily

realise the urgency of splitting support from rent;

- Providers, especially non RSLs, struggled to breakdown costs;

- Providers preferred to put more, not fewer costs into rent;

- Many providers need to be persuaded to re-examine rent breakdowns

already provided;

- Providers needed and wanted technical and financial help;

Benefits Agencies

- None of the offices visited in the pilot study

were aware of the national scan of IS cases by the BA in March 2000

of this scan or received any results from it for their area.

Consequently, only two were visited in the main fieldwork;

- BA offices were unaware of the relevance and importance of what

had been asked of them and have not been proactive in identifying the

support costs within service charges;

Recommendations

- There were various recommendations for Government

that ranged from DWP and DTLR taking a more proactive approach with

LAs identified as 'failing' in some way to DWP providing additional

guidance on areas such as reasonableness of support charges.

Notes

1. 'The Transitional Housing Benefit Scheme: A Three Way Process' is

published on 31st October 2001 in the Department of Social Security's

In-house Research Series (report number 86), ISBN 1 8519 7 931 X.

2. 'Supporting People' is the government's long-term policy to

enable LAs to plan, commission and provided quality lower level

support services which help vulnerable people live independently in

the community. 'Supporting People' will bring together various

funding streams into a single budget to be administered by local

authorities from April 2003.

3. The authors of this report are Roy Sainsbury (SPRU) and Christine

Oldman (CHP) at the university of York.

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