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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

The future of supported living

Ricky Rowledge, Director of Council for the Homeless NI, gives her opinion on the future plans for supported living.

One of the dubious advantages of having worked for so long in a single specialism is seeing long unresolved issues raise their head again - and again.

Such is the case with the reinvigorated debate over the definitions of housing support and care, where I remember attending cross-sectoral meetings as far back as the 80s, then deliberating on ‘Housing with Care’.

In my opinion, the current ‘discussion’ over definitions, and a subsequent inter-departmental transfer of funds, distracts us all.

People are multi-faceted, we know that. Those with needs don’t fall neatly into boxes or problems arise when the most appropriate (or appropriately funded) member of staff is on shift. I understand with our Departmental structures this can be a problem. However, any attempt to quantify and apportion staff time between income streams will always fall short, for this very reason. The focus on parsing individual needs neglects to recognise the complexity and diversity of those needs and, instead of promoting integrated systems and a cohesive response, has the potential to create service gaps and fail the very people it aims to protect.

Major concerns for transfer for Housing Related Support

Provider organisations have two major concerns should Housing Related Support funding for supported living transfer from the Department of Social Development.

Firstly, is the possibility of disproportionate and inappropriate regulation and inspection. Providers are fully supportive of regulation per se, but supported living projects embody the true principles of care in the community. They promote autonomy, grant and maintain tenancies and provide care and housing support to people in their own homes. They should not be regulated by domiciliary care or residential home standards. This is particularly true in the case of homelessness provision.

Secondly, and more significantly, there is genuine trepidation that any transfer will result in a loss of the Supported Housing budget to meet shortfalls in the hard pressed Health budget. Without ring-fencing, Northern Ireland could mirror the noteworthy reduction in services already seen in England and Scotland.

Solution to meet needs of young homeless people

There is of course a solution, and one that has been devised and implemented jointly between Health and Social Services, Supporting People and the provider sector.

In order to meet the housing and support needs of young homeless people, to whom both Departments have a duty of care, a process of mapping, needs analysis, service model design and a custom built regulatory framework was undertaken. Unlike the present deliberations, the provider sector were comprehensively involved and their contribution acknowledged as invaluable.

The result was a system with:

  • Joint assessment protocols,
  • Pathways to housing and care,
  • A hybrid and fitting regulatory system overseen by RQIA, and
  • Jointly commissioned and funded schemes.

There is no reason why this model cannot be replicated for all those who require both housing support and care services under the one roof. There aren’t that many of them! It places the service user (not the budget) at the centre, has the commitment of all parties and grants each Department responsibility for their own budget while being mindful of their statutory duties, and limitations. So, please, can we try it this way?

Read Ricky's three housing wishes.

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This article was written on 23 September 2013. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.