The background to the National Standard of Expectations (“NSE”)

If asked, most of us would say that we think is it right for the vulnerable in our society to receive particular care and support and we would therefore agree with the government’s desire to ensure that accommodation provided to such individuals is of a high standard. We would want to know that these vulnerable individuals are going to be treated with care and respect and that they will receive the support they need to live safely in their community. Fortunately, the majority of supported housing schemes are run by hard working and caring organisations who endeavour to provide vital support to vulnerable people in society. Most providers will often go the extra mile to ensure that their residents’ support needs are met and that their accommodation is maintained to a high standard justifying their increased funding from the government through the housing benefit system.

Tragically, although the vast majority of providers of supported housing are driven by a genuine desire to help those struggling with support needs, there are still some who provide sub-standard housing with little or no support, leaving the vulnerable in their care exposed to hardship and difficulties. By way of example, in 2016 the body of George Mahoney was found in a pool of blood and in 2017, Paul Way’s body was not found for three days despite the fact that he was living in supported housing where he should have been safe and cared for. These are shocking and sad incidences of inadequately run supported housing.

What is the NSE?

In order to safeguard against such incidences, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has now published its National Statement of Expectations (NSE) for Supported Housing. This is a set of guidelines for local authorities and supported housing providers, setting out good practice for the housing management aspects of supported housing provision. It is perhaps an indication of the value the government places on supported housing. It is intended to be a tool for local authorities to uphold good practice in the supported housing sector, and can assist with cases where increased funding for this type of housing is sought. To put their money where their goals are, the government pledged £3m to fund pilots in five areas – Birmingham, Hull, Blackpool, Bristol and Blackburn – to improve quality, enforcement, oversight and value for money in supported housing, focusing on short-term supported accommodation.

What you need to know about the NSE

Bearing in mind the purpose of the NSE, it sets out key areas that the local authority should be addressing in ensuring that the supported housing in their locality is meeting the required standards. These include:

(a) Assessing local need and planning effectively to meet demand;

(b)Delivering accommodation which is safe, of good quality and represents value for money; and

(c)General expectations and suitability of the accommodation.

The NSE sets out a series of regulations and minimum accommodation standards that providers will be expected to have in place for all supported housing. For example, all of a provider’s buildings will be expected to comply with local government standards or other statutory building and fire safety regulations and any other relevant wider applicable housing legislation.

The NSE recommends that local authorities should consider what housing facilities the provider intends to provide to their residents e.g. are there sufficient bedrooms, does the accommodation provide residents with privacy and dignity, is there adequate living space for daily activities and so on. In line with the above, the NSE sets out the minimum legal requirements for buildings to be considered fit for human habitation.

In considering the rights of the residents further, the NSE confirms that local authorities will expect to see that all residents have clear occupancy agreements between themselves and the landlord provider which sets out the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

The NSE also encourages providers to engage in appropriate communication with their residents and provide clear and unequivocal policies and procedures for them to follow. This will help to make them feel secure and set clear boundaries for all the residents living in the accommodation.

What does the NSE mean for providers now and in the future?

As stated above, some local authorities are already undertaking pilot schemes to explore these new standards among providers in their locality. If approached by their local authority in any of these areas, a provider is not obligated to take part in the pilot scheme but may wish to do so to help them to prepare for the future when the standards will be applied nationwide. It is an opportunity for providers to work together with their local authority to ensure that they are meeting the standards expected of them.

Established providers will want to be sure that their infrastructure is tip-top and ready to be scrutinised by the local authority in assessing continued housing benefit support for their residents. For new providers, it is an opportunity to carefully consider how you will meet the standards that will be expected.

As advisors to providers of exempt supported accommodation, we are happy to assist any organisation as they prepare for the implementation of these standards.

For new and established clients, we recommend a consultation with us to discuss what steps you may need to take to be ready for the future as local authorities seek to uphold the government’s desire to see all vulnerable people in society provided with good quality, safe and secure accommodation where they are supported and encouraged to live their life as independently as possible.