Minister offers flexibility on changes in housing grants

18 May 00
Local authorities may be given the chance initially to opt out of a new grant system for people living in sheltered and supported accommodation.

19 May 2000

The government suggested this week there was a possibility that the new funding regime might be phased in rather than all councils implementing it at the same time in April 2003.

But it was stressed that authorities hoping to delay the changes for 12 months would need to make a strong case to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The new grant will replace money currently paid to people through housing benefit and other grants. It will be administered by councils, probably through joint commissioning arrangements involving housing and social services departments and the probation service.

Speaking at the launch of two consultation papers on the new 'supporting people' framework, housing minister Nick Raynsford said he appreciated the danger of going for a 'big bang' approach and was not willing to take risks when vulnerable people would be relying on

the grant for essential support services. 'We are prepared to be flexible where there are genuine reasons why 2003 is not feasible,' he said.

'There have been too many examples in the past of major social policy reforms being introduced too hastily and without proper consultation.'

But the paper also points out the dangers of a phased approach – including the difficulties it may cause for national providers such as registered social landlords with accommodation in more than one local authority area.

The papers, unveiled on May 17, cover phased implementation and managing the changeover to the new system. Four more consultation papers are planned during the next 12 months, covering areas such as decision-making and charging for services.

All services which fall within the 'supporting people' framework must be reviewed by local authorities within three years of the new grant being introduced. No tenant currently in receipt of support should be worse off as a result of the changes.

Six pilot or preparation projects, which began last month, are looking at ways of deciding how an authority's grant should be distributed.

The government is also open to suggestions from councils not involved in the pilots. 'We don't want to take away innovation from other authorities,' said Raynsford.


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