Monday, 14 October 2013

Creating more housing opportunities for people with disabilities

Jayne Knight, Development Lead for The Cameron Trust

Since July of this year I have been developing the Cameron Charitable Trust. This has been with the full support of the Housing and Support Alliance, in particular Alicia Wood, who has spent the last two years creating and planning this with the founder, Duncan Cameron. Do you know that according to Mencap the growing number of people with learning disabilities alone requiring accommodation is 2,265 every year until 2026? The need for good quality housing has never been so important.

The Cameron Trust is already running very efficiently in the South West and now has 40 properties all very suitably adapted or designed and purchased for people with a learning disability. It launched officially in November 2012 and is due for its second stage launch in December 2013.

So what’s happening now? The Cameron Trust is in the process of registering as a Registered Provider of Housing with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This means it can lease property or purchase property through other investment models and provide high quality housing nationally. Equally exciting is the setting up of Let For Life, which will develop and host the first independent website of its kind for people with a disability who wish to find a home of their own. This innovation in property information for people with disabilities has been created and developed by the founding director of the Trust, Duncan Cameron. Of course you would expect no less from the man who had the knowledge and ability to undertake the technical programming of Money Supermarket, the first website of its kind, twelve years ago.

The majority of people with disabilities do not get the chance to access normal housing through the methods used by the general population. This means that people stay with family far longer, live with people they do not wish to live with, move under crisis situations or at the very worst end up in institutions such as assessment and treatment units for very long periods, often years. Some of these latter places are still NHS or private hospitals where people have no real home and very inappropriate medical interventions over many years and as we have seen by the Winterbourne shocking scenes, experience abusive treatment. 

We know that current websites such as Choice Based Lettings and property search engines such as Zoopla or Rightmove and housing application processes are not straightforward for people who have disabilities, particularly learning disabilities. When people finally find a property to rent in the private sector they find that Landlords often are not interested in offering their housing to people who have disabilities who receive benefits.

The Cameron Trust aims to change this short sighted attitude of the majority of private landlords. It will ensure that private landlords are aware of the merits of letting to people with disabilities, often who are reliable, long term tenants, particularly if they are offered and provided with the correct level of support to enable them to live safely and comfortably in the community.

If these lettings are also undertaken through organisations such as the Cameron Trust then it makes for a very attractive proposal for tenants, private landlords, commissioners and providers of services.

The website will launch in the Spring of 2014. Teams of programmers under Duncan Cameron’s guidance are working up the sites. It has been so interesting to see a technical way of logging and answering many of the enquiries that the Cameron Trust are already starting to receive (far better than my usual pad of A4 enquiries!) However as we know in this work we need to have the human response too and that makes this whole creative approach a very realistic, practical solution too.

The Cameron Trust now has offices in Wilmslow, courtesy of Duncan Cameron that are right by the train station. This is where the head office will be based but of course today a great deal of the work can be done using all sorts of tele-facilities. The Cameron Trust will however build on its work in the South West by employing housing workers nationally who will meet people and guide them through every step of the way and provide a housing management service locally. It may also offer a low level of support at first to see people settled in their new homes. If you are interested in finding out about any of these positions please contact me at the Cameron Trust.

The Cameron Trust employees understand the Housing and Care system and can speak easily and professionally with people with disabilities who need housing, commissioners of services, families, housing professionals and providers of support and care services. Along with the Housing and Support Alliance it has people who can advise on and deal with the whole raft of changes with the benefits systems, look for and lease or buy appropriate accommodation, develop partnerships to provide more housing and also provide homes, where necessary, for people with a range of needs including very high level needs. It is already talking to a whole range of investors willing to invest money or to offer property.

The Cameron Trust will concentrate for the first eighteen months of its work with people with learning disabilities who need support and care to maintain their tenancy. All the referrals for housing to the Cameron Trust will come through the Housing and Support Alliance referral system. People who refer will need to be full members of the Housing and Support Alliance to make those referrals. By the time the referral is ready to be nominated to the Cameron Trust for housing much of the work of the referring Authority will have been completed or will be in process. For any one wishing to move to another Local Authority area they must have the approval also of the hosting Local Authority.

One of the “tech solutions” is that we will also be able to collect information on the website about the demand for housing and the provision of available housing in areas. We will be gathering information about the numbers of people who expressed an interest in moving from one Local Authority area to another. This will give more information to the “ordinary residence” debate, an area of great concern of many Local Authorities but something that does prevent the free movement of citizens with disabilities nationally.

During the last three months it has become very clear that we need to work hard to get solutions for many of the people currently still in Assessment and Treatment units. I have been heartened by the meaningful responses now of the Government to make things happen for people who are still waiting to start new lives but are not moving very far forward in that struggle. This will be a major part of the work of the Cameron Trust and we hope to be able to inform members soon about any progress in that direction.

So meetings with solicitors are happening this week, the website is well on its way and the applications for registration are all being filed. Next stop launch in December so watch out for information on the website and up dated newsletters. Thank you to those members who have already sent in referrals and there will be final information at the H and SA National Conference where we hope to see you and hear about your experiences of getting housing and any good practice you may be able to share with us too.