Union Seeks Protection For Charitable Sector Supported Housing

Senior union officials are set for crisis talks with the minister charged with overseeing the charitable sector over fears that Supporting People contracts are being lost to private companies. Representatives from Amicus are meeting Ed Miliband this week to seek assurance on the future of the not-for-profit sector, including housing associations and voluntary organisations, in providing supported housing.

The union fears that private companies will find it easier to undercut charities and deliver a poorer quality of service. David Jones, trade union organiser at Amicus, said that the union wanted guarantees that the government would safeguard funding for not-for-profit supported housing operations. ‘What we wish to achieve is a more secure funding stream within the third sector,’ he said.

Charitable organisations were unable to match the low bids being put in by the private providers, Mr Jones said. ‘The only way the not-for-profit sector can compete is by cutting their staffing costs,’ he added.

Any staff transferring to a private company if a contract changed hands would also have to accept worse working conditions, he added. ‘I would say it is reaching crisis point. It seems as if there are some organisations that are living from one year to the next,’ he said.

Robert Taylor, chair of a housing workers’ branch of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, said that choosing the cheapest provider was not the only indication of value. ‘As in most things, you get what you pay for,’ he said. ‘The private sector is encroaching on all parts of housing so it does not surprise me that that is happening in supported housing,’ he added. ‘Supporting People has got to be about putting people first and you have got to have organisations who are expert in putting those people first. You have to ask if the private sector is best placed to do that.’

One private provider, Clear Springs, which won a £2 million floating support contract in Cornwall, said that the authority’s tendering process had been ‘comprehensive and open’. ‘As a private provider all our services are planned around our core competencies of Supporting People, housing management, property management, property acquisition and logistics and are planned around the original ethos of the Supporting People programme,’ a spokesperson said.

Supported housing providers warned that moves by councils to slash the number of organisations providing floating support could see the ‘wholesale destruction’ of the voluntary sector in housing.