19 August 2020

Housing associations providing supported housing have become very accustomed to operating in uncertain and challenging times. There has been sustained cutbacks in social care and successive reductions in support funding for tenants. The proposed local housing allowance cap threatened vast parts of the sector and whilst overturned, its legacy remains today.

Many longstanding housing associations have found it increasingly difficult to develop new supported housing, with the gap to meet the growing demand often delivered by a new breed of equity backed lease providers. The impact of the sector has somewhat been overshadowed in recent times by the Regulator of Social Housing’s sustained scrutiny and criticism of these new housing associations. However, without doubt, the coronavirus crisis has tested us all like at no other time in living memory.

Golden Lane Housing, established in 1998, provides specialist housing for over 2,000 people with a learning disability and autism throughout the UK, and like all providers at this time we’re acutely aware of our additional responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of tenants. Our tenants are some of the most susceptible individuals to coronavirus and many have been shielding. From the start of the lockdown, our tenants have needed our 24-hour helpline, and it was important that we set up our staff to work at home as quickly as possible and ensure our national in-house repairs team were equipped with all the right personal protective equipment. Our teams and our tenants quickly embraced technology to support communication. We carried out over 3,500 individual well-being calls over the initial lockdown, targeting those tenants who were self-isolating or shielding. Importantly, we continued to carry out gas safety checks and emergency repairs – often using video calls to diagnose repairs. We have learnt many new ways of working that will continue to support our service delivery for years to come. Last year we provided new housing for nearly 300 people and following a short pause, the development team were back out building and adapting vitally needed new homes.

It felt like the organisation, the sector, and government were coming together like never before. Social media groups, video calls and membership bodies helped disseminate the vast amounts of information and guidance from central and local government. We provided ‘easy-read’ formats of the government documentation so that our tenants could understand what was happening and why.

The challenges and uncertainty that existed before coronavirus remain. Mencap’s recent research found that 69% of people with a learning disability have had their social care cut during the crisis. It is clear that there is an urgent need now for investment to ensure people can access the right level of social care as restrictions start to ease. The sector awaits the first clues from the Department of Work and Pensions on their proposals for new welfare funding to replace the current longstanding housing benefit regulations. In addition, there continues to be a massive need for new adapted, sustainable housing provision.

The Learning Disability and Autism Housing Network is a new coalition of compliant housing associations and we are making the case for increased capital funding investment from government to deliver more homes. More than ever before, we have seen the impact and the value for money supported housing provides. The government and the sector needs to continue to work together to make quality housing with quality support a reality for more people with a learning disability and autism.

John Verge

John is Chief Executive of Golden Lane Housing

John is Chief Executive of Golden Lane Housing, and has worked for the UK learning disability housing association set up by Mencap for 20 years. During his time at Golden Lane Housing, the organisation has lead on innovative solutions for thousands of people with a learning disability and autism across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and won a variety of national awards for their social impact bonds and specialist services. John has a Masters in Housing Studies, MBA from Warwick Business School and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing and Royal Society of Arts.

Adapting supported housing in times of crisis