Housing professionals have today expressed serious concern about the viability of many supported housing services, following news from the Housing Executive that Supporting People project funding will be frozen for a ninth consecutive year in 2016/17.
Separately, the Department for Social Development has confirmed that ‘Legacy’ Special Needs Management Allowance (SNMA), which funds Housing with Care schemes for frail older people, will be cut by a further 20% for 2016/17.
The Supporting People programme of approximately £74m p.a. equips and supports more than 17,000 vulnerable people each year in Northern Ireland to live independently. Through housing associations and other providers such as the Simon Community and Women’s Aid people can receive support in a hostel, in sheltered housing or in other types of supported housing accommodation.
Support can also be provided to people in their own homes, whether privately rented, owner-occupied or social housing, through floating support services. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) delivers the programme on behalf of the Department for Social Development (DSD).
Responding to this news, Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of NIFHA, and joint Chair of CRISPP (Committee Representing Independent Supporting People Providers) said:
“News that Supporting People funding for supported housing projects is to be frozen for a ninth consecutive year is hugely concerning. The viability and sustainability of many services for vulnerable people in Northern Ireland is increasingly at risk. This includes accommodation-based projects for frail older people, homeless people and people with learning disabilities.
“The prolonged funding squeeze over nearly a decade equates to a real terms cut of over 25% to these vital services. Many dedicated staff have not received pay rises and are leaving for other jobs, compromising the quality of services. The situation has now reached crisis point. Statutory funders appear to believe that independent, charitable providers can endlessly absorb increasing costs, but that is not the case.”
He added: “Given fast-increasing staff costs such as the National Living Wage, CRISSP is calling for an immediate 10% increase in project funding to protect vital services. Even in the midst of this election campaign, the NI Executive must address this matter urgently to safeguard the welfare of the thousands of people relying on Supporting People. In tough times, the NI Executive must not balance its budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Ricky Rowledge, Chief Executive of Council for the Homeless NI, and Joint Chair of CRISPP, said:
“The past few weeks have seen significant media attention directed towards the issue of homelessness, and a recognition of the importance of existing services. This has been coupled with calls for increased provision, particularly in the area of housing support.
“The Supporting People fund is the primary source of income for homelessness support providers throughout NI; ensuring homeless people are assisted to both exit homelessness and maintain a home of their own in the community.
“Without an increase to the Supporting People budget, these vital services will be in danger of contracting if not closing, and our aim of ending homelessness will be impossible to achieve.”