A safe, secure future for homeless hostels

The government’s decision to not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing is a victory for our #SaveHostels campaign. Robyn Casey, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why this is so important and why we now need to secure funding for support costs

This week the government announced that it will not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing, including homeless hostels.

We have campaigned hard to protect funding for these life-saving services over the last two years. Our #Save Hostels campaign focused on this issue, and more than 12,000 people signed our petition calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk.

We’re thrilled that the government has listened to us and our campaigners, and committed to continue using Housing Benefit to fund hostel housing costs.

Why is it so important to fund housing costs in this way?

Homeless hostels are a type of supported housing which help people to get back on their feet after a period of crisis as they look towards living independently. They enable people to live in a safe environment, while receiving support to rebuild their lives away from the street.

Hostels are funded in two ways:

  • residents claim Housing Benefit to pay for the cost of their accommodation
  • the local council provides funding for the support staff who work closely with residents to help them to achieve their goals

The government had proposed to change the way these services were funded by taking housing costs out of Housing Benefit. Instead, local councils would have been responsible for funding both housing and support costs.

At St Mungo’s we were very concerned about these proposals. We felt they would have put homeless hostels at serious risk of closure, and left many people without anywhere to turn for support.

The government stated that using local councils to distribute funding wouldn’t lead to a reduction in the amount of money available to services. This was a welcome reassurance, but our experience with this type of funding told a very different story.

Funding for the support provided in our services has massively reduced over the past decade, after a ring-fence around this funding was removed. In fact, a report by the National Audit Office found that it has declined by 59 per cent since 2010. (PDF) This has left some services struggling to survive, and funding housing costs in the same way could have been devastating.

Instead, the government has listened to calls from across the sector and retained funding within Housing Benefit.

This means homeless hostels will have a stable income and a more secure future. We will continue to be able to invest in improving existing services and developing new ones and, crucially, provide safe places for people to stay and rebuild their lives after sleeping rough.

What next?

Increased oversight

Housing costs within supported housing can be higher than in other rented properties. This is because there is a higher turnover of residents, and additional costs for the maintenance of communal spaces. The government recognises that these additional costs are justified, but would like to increase oversight of the sector to make sure that taxpayer money is being used effectively.

St Mungo’s would welcome the opportunity to contribute to these plans. We are proud of the services we provide and the support we give our clients, and look forward to working with the government to ensure that the high standards we hold ourselves to is reflected across all services.

A long term, strategic approach to funding for support

While the government’s decision on housing costs is very welcome, there is still work to be done to restore funding for support costs. We are pleased that the government has also announced that it will review housing related support to better understand how the system currently works. We look forward to working with them on this issue and demonstrating the need for a secure support system which is fit for the future.

But there is much more to be done to make sure that everyone has a safe and secure place to live. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.