7 Jan 2011

How Britain is Failing Their Older People - Sheltered Housing

Resident Wardens have been removed from rented Sheltered Housing and this has left vulnerable, elderly residents to suffer serious consequences

In reading this please bear in mind that approximately 70% of the residents of rented Sheltered Housing are in receipt of Housing Benefit. The remaining 30% are what is termed “self funding”. Problems are arising in the Housing Benefit group and they have a knock on effect for all residents.

Prior to 2003, for those in receipt of Housing Benefit it also paid for the services of the Warden.

In 2002 the Government took out a Judicial Review to determine if it was legal to pay for the Warden from Housing benefit. The answer was it was not. In response the Government split the housing benefit for residents, one portion still paid in Housing Benefit for what is termed “bricks and mortar” . The other portion was called “support services”. This latter portion was re-located into the Supporting People budgets

There are approximately 149 Supporting People commissioners across the country and they are usually located with local government. Inter alia, their remit includes drug addicts and people with learning difficulties. The services provided by Supporting People are needs based, aimed at a specific problem which, when solved, they moves on. This brings Supporting People Commissioners into conflict with Sheltered Housing which is a tenure based support service and is for the life of the tenant.

Rather than amending the Supporting People needs based remit, to accommodate Sheltered Housing, the alternative solution of attempting to engineer Sheltered Housing resident needs to fall into line with Supporting People has become the only option.

Initially Sheltered Housing was ring fenced within the Supporting People budget, but this ceased in 2010 and Sheltered Housing became a part of the annual bidding wars for funds within specific local authorities.

There is a possibility that Housing Providers can opt out of supplying a Warden a service altogether. In the event Supporting People can provide what is termed 'Floating Support'.

This is not an alternative Warden service but is a community wide service. Many residents do not qualify according to the qualifying criterion set by Supporting People and receive no visits at all. In most cases Floating Support is provided on the basis of , usually, a visit once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month. As mentioned before it is only needs based and it is not envisaged that this type of support would be for a period of more than two years.

The contract to furnish Floating Support does not necessarily belong to the providers of Sheltered Housing, it can now be contracted outside of ownership.

Trickery is being used in asking residents to fill in a Support Plan, without discussing the full implications, and this is later used to reduce Supporting People reimbursements to Housing Providers.

Sheltered Housing UK say that residents made their own Support Plan, which consisted of the service on offer to them when they opted to live in Sheltered Housing, and this support is a part of their contract.

Usually Floating Support is managed on a staff rota system, thus its operatives never get to know the people they are dealing with. In Kent, we have heard of one such operative who had one hundred visits per day. Locally they call it the knock and run service.

People who moved into Sheltered Housing, and, according to our statistics many have sold up or given up their own home because they expected the security of a Warden, have virtually been stabbed in the back and they are not normally of sufficient wealth, or health to reverse their choice now.

The providers of Sheltered Housing who, hitherto, gleaned Housing Benefit for the provision of Wardens from the 70% of their residents who received it, have suffered a loss of income. Their response has been to remove or curtail their Warden service, against the wishes of a majority of their residents.

Section 105 of the Housing Act, 1985 calls upon social landlords to hold consultations with their residents before they make changes to the management of the properties they live in. Many Housing Providers did not consult at all, going ahead and removed, or changed Warden duties to suit their profit expectations.

Consultations, on face value many take to mean that some kind of democratic process has, or is to take place, and they are wrong. Consultations cannot be legally enforced, and there is suspicion that some Housing Providers have held them to satisfy the Housing Act, as above, but have absolutely no intention of acceding to any residents views, unless they coincide exactly with the plan they have in mind.

There have been many Parliamentary Questions put by MPs in the past and; to each the Government field the same answer:- The Government cannot control local government and it is up to Local Government Supporting People, and the complainant must approach them.

This is a slight of hand, a fork of tongue, and buck passing. It was the previous Government, but compounded by the present coalition, which produced this legislation and neither of them carried out any impact assessment when they passed the support element of Sheltered Housing over to local area Supporting People, nor did they exercise a common duty of care.

Moreover, Supporting People is funded from central taxation, so it follows that Central Government, have every right to determine how that money is spent, indeed they have a duty to see how it is spent.

In the past, three of these cases have been taken to a Judicial Review, Eastbourne, Barnet, Portsmouth, and each was found against the Housing Provider. Judicial Reviews per se are investigations into the procedural processes which took place, and where these processes are found to be legally incorrect, the Judge can order that they be put right by going back to the beginning. Which was done, but that does not prevent the adjudged against from getting the procedures right and returning to their previous intention.

How the battle is being waged

The Sheltered Housing UK Association was formed at the end of 2008 when it was realised that individual Sheltered Homes throughout the UK were isolated and were being picked off one by one. The objective was to unite them so that they could be informed and form a counter pressure group to the political events which were affecting them.

At the moment we have 43, cross party, Members of Parliament who support us. Both Geoffrey Cox QC, MP, and Margot James, MP, at different times, have obtained Adjournment Debates in the House of Commons on the subject of Wardens in Sheltered Housing.

Last year we presented a 15,188 signature to No 10 Downing Street, calling upon the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to save Wardens in Sheltered Housing. The number of signatures we obtained were only limited by the number of people fit enough to undertake the task for collecting them. In some places people actually queued to sign the petition. There have been two other demonstrations outside of Parliament and No 10 Downing Street.

We have had letters in The Times Newspaper and articles in The Observer, Independent, Times On Saturday and The Sunday Express; and we are supported by the, targeted at the elderly, magazines 'Yours', and 'The Mature Times'.

We carried out a national survey of residents needs and requirements in Sheltered Housing.

97% said they only moved into Sheltered Housing because of the anticipated Warden service.

91% said they would never have moved in at all if they had known that they would take the Warden away after they had moved in. Most had given up larger than needs housing, sold or rented, to move into Sheltered Housing.

Our Vice Chairman, as a constituent, of David Cameron, sought a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister in October 2010, and the 118 stalled Court cases was discussed, at which the Prime Minister seemed concerned. On other matters he agreed to speak with the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities , Eric Pickles MP and, or, Grant Shapps MP, the Minister for Housing on a possible meeting.

This meeting did not occur, and eventually a letter from Grant Schapps to the Prime Minister was copied to our Vice Chairman saying that Sheltered Housing was traditionally funded through Supporting People.

So apparently the Housing Minister was unaware that Sheltered Housing had been traditionally funded through Housing Benefit but more recently levered into the Supporting People budgets. Thus, demonstrated that not only the Housing Minister short on facts, but the Prime Minister has been misled too ! Since then our Vice Chairman has twiced E-mailed David Cameron in connection with his letter, but has not been dignfied with a response.

Cause and Effect

Many said that, where the Warden had been removed, the activities in their Sheltered Housing complex virtually ceased and the residents had become insular.

Deaths may occur in Sheltered Housing at any time, and in any given circumstances.

But, notably a few have occurred where, had there have been an alert site-specific Warden, who is aware of residents habits and normal demeanour, they could have been prevented.

There is no telling how long some of those people remained alive on the floor of their flat before they died alone. In one of the most recent of cases a trail of maggots led to the body being found.

The longest that we heard of a resident on the floor, yet did survive, was four days. How does the Health and Safety Executive stand on this? Clearly if a service is reduced and death comes as a result, then the Health and Safety Executive should be involved.

Along the way we came across solicitor Yvonne Hossack, whom we invited to take on the cases which were presented to us. It is she who brought and won the first three Judicial Reviews.

From the end of 2008, through 2009, we gathered cases where residents wished to bring their housing provider to Court for removing their Warden against their wishes and passed them on to Hossacks. By early 2010 these numbered c.118 cases and this has since grown to c.150 cases from across the country. The sheer magnitude of dissatisfaction is staggering. The c.118 cases were presented to Legal Aid system in early 2010 and were now for 'breach of contract', rather than Judicial Reviews

The distribution of Legal Aid, Family section, is made geographically and a minor fault had been made in submitting the applications by Hossacks, rsulting in the applications being all made out as if they pertained to the Wiltshire budget.

An easy and correctable mistake. A terse letter from the Legal Services Commission, in about late September, noted this and responded that all the cases had been rejected save the one for Wiltshire. In other words there was just one word wrong in the remaining 117 Applications. Their letter continued 'There is no appeal against this decision'.

We found the assumptive divine right implied in this latter wording is unbelievable.

The Legal Services Commission are a public body and they have no powers whatsoever to state that the public cannot appeal against their decisions. They are paid by the taxpayer, and likewise accountable to the tax payer.

The Sheltered Housing UK consequently embarked on a petition to them noting, within it, that residents were aware that murderers, foreign terrorists, prisoners and villains were all entitled and apparently received Legal Aid, even for the right to be called 'Mr' in prison. Yet, these 2000 residents and 117 cases had been rejected, and for the flimsiest of reasons. We pointed out that they, the LSC, had the telephone, fax and the internet to seek corrections to the Applications, and a bottle of Tippex did not cost a lot. A little applied common sense costs nothing at all !

Under the Freedom of Information Act I asked the LSC how many other solicitors applications had they rejected on the basis of a word wrong in the document and with the added words there is no appeal against this decision. I asked them for their response to the petition as well. Their reply was that the petition letters they had received from residents across the country would make no difference to their decision and they declined to answer the other FOI questions on the basis that they were sub-judice and could harm their commercial operations to reveal them.

Commercial operations ? They are a public body, any operations they indulge in are de facto 'public operations'.


This briefing is provided by Sheltered Housing UK Association, Registered Charity Number 1137806

In short, we are failing our older people.

More than 500,000 people in the UK reside in Sheltered Housing.

In 2012, there will be more people aged 50 or above than under. These people may need the temporary and reassuring care of a warden, a cost saving measure in comparison to individual care budgets, and shown by studies to reduce the need for and subsequent time spent in a Care Home.

People who move in to Sheltered Housing often come from Council Housing, thereby freeing up two, three and four bedroom houses for the 2 year + waiting lists of families needing somewhere to live.

People who move into Sheltered Housing are less isolated than those who live alone or in changing neighbourhoods. Their mental health, their well being, and their capabilities increase with the reassuring presence of a warden in Shelteres Housing.

But Older People are not demonstrators. They cannot invade Conservative Headquarters and throw fire extinguishers to make their points. They have health problems to worry about.

And yet our country is denying them resident wardens on a technicality.

And as a result, those approaching old age are refusing sheltered housing due to the lack of wardens, which is costing the government more in Supporting People grants, in wasting properties that could house families and in shifting costs to other agencies.

When a fire alarm goes off in a Sheltered Unit now, instead of the Warden recognising it is Mrs Smith burning her toast, the fire engine has to come out.

If Mr Brown takes a fall, he has to call an ambulance. If he can get to the phone of course.

We need more support to help support these people and stop treating our Older People as if they are invisible.

Sheltered Housing UK is seeking donations to help fund cases, seeking people to help collect FOI requests from their local authorities and to help us continue to reach out to people in Sheltered Housing.

1 comment:

  1. Its great that you have raised this issue.

    My Grandmother lived for many years in a sheltered housing complex with a resident

    My Mother was a home carer and i used to
    live in a house linked to sheltered housing
    because my then partner was the Assistant

    It is as you say an invaluable service which
    needs to be defended.

    If i can help with campaigning i would be
    happy to.

    My email is; warren_david@hotmail.co.uk


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