A £7.7 million residential care scheme that was set to be built in Starbeck is under threat in the wake of the Government’s proposed cuts to housing benefits.
Housing association Harrogate Neighbours has been working in partnership with construction company Keepmoat and North Yorkshire County Council to deliver ‘The Cuttings’ on a 1.5 acre brownfield site.
Work was due to start on the Extra Care development on the redundant highways depot in Station View, but it has been delayed due to proposed changes to housing benefit.
These changes reduce the financial support available for the specialist housing needs of older and vulnerable people.
Under plans outlined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP, benefit would be limited to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) level, which is lower than what is paid now.
According to Harrogate Neighbours this means some tenants moving to the new development would lose a proportion of their housing benefit to cover their rent and service charges. This reduced income to the not-for-profit association would not be enough to cover the costs in the new development, currently making it unviable.
Sue Cawthray, chief executive of Harrogate Neighbours Housing Association, said: “We are extremely disappointed to have reached the stage where we’re about to start building a much-improved modern facility that would support the care we provide, only to have it threatened by these potential changes to the housing benefit.
“Some of our current housing association tenants will be affected if the changes come in as the benefit will be limited to the lower rate on the Local Housing Allowance. The National Housing Federation estimates that recipients could be worse off by an average of £68 a week.
“While we had funding in place, including a grant to assist with the development costs, we simply cannot begin construction with the uncertainty hanging over us that we may not be able to meet the ongoing costs of running the facility.
“It is unbelievable that we face this ridiculous situation, given the elderly population is increasing in the UK and there’s a clear need for providing carefully thought-out solutions where older people can remain living independently for longer while having access to the care and support they need.”
Under ‘The Cuttings’ scheme, 55 one and two-bedroom apartments and studio flats would be available to rent. Tenants would have access to communal facilities including lounge, café, activity room and landscaped gardens, as well as emergency and unplanned care provided by trained staff 24 hours-a-day.
The development would also include new administrative space and kitchen facilities that would enable the housing association to cater for the tenants, as well as continuing to expand the already successful meal delivery service – Harrogate Food Angels which provides hot meals five-days-a-week to elderly customers across Harrogate.
Once completed, priority would be given to relocating the 52 tenants currently living at Harrogate Neighbours’ current Extra Care housing at Greenfield Court, in Wetherby Road, and any residents at the county council’s Woodfield House home.
A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “The county council is currently working with Harrogate Neighbours to address concerns that the planned housing benefit changes have caused the housing provider for their new scheme at The Cuttings. Taking into account all of the possible income for The Cuttings, the county council remains hopeful that this scheme will still be viable.”
Meanwhile, in a letter to Communities Secretary Greg Clark, North Yorkshire’s leader Carl Les, has expressed deep concerns about the risk to Extra Care schemes across the county as an “unintended consequence” of the Government’s housing benefit changes.
Coun Les has urged the Minister “to consider a full exemption from these proposed housing benefits changes for people living in Extra Care and supported accommodation, now and in the future.”
He stated that the changes to housing benefits, alongside the proposed 1 per cent per annum rent reduction announced as part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, has the potential to de-stabilise the supported housing sector locally and increase costs further for the county council.
The authority has an ambitious programme to develop Extra Care housing in every major town in North Yorkshire and remains committed to the programme. Over the past decade the council has developed 19 Extra Care schemes, with two more being built currently and potentially up to another 30 in the pipeline.
“Our approach has been both to keep older and disabled people – including those with early stages of dementia - living independently through well-designed schemes which offer social and private rental and owner occupier choices”, stated Cllr Les, in the letter. “We are also expanding the other types of housing choices which help younger adults who have long term mental health issues, learning and physical disabilities. We view this approach as being essential to the prevention of ill-health and isolation, as well as making economic sense for the taxpayer.”
The county council has been procuring a framework of organisations such as building developers and social housing providers who design, fund, build, manage and operate the schemes, on the council’s behalf. Six new partners were appointed last September and the Council is now urgently working with those partners to understand the potential impact of the housing benefit changes.
County Councillor Clare Wood, executive member for Adult Social Care and Health Integration, said: “We do not oppose welfare reform per se. But we call on Ministers to address the unintended consequences of these reforms which will impact on the county council’s priority to support older and disabled people to remain independent and living in their own homes.
“Our aim is both to continue to develop the housing options people want, and to ensure new tenants for our current schemes can benefit from the quality and cost effective support that Extra Care offers.”