Support for vulnerable people programme criticised
A £125m grant scheme to help vulnerable people live independently needs to show it is delivering value for money, preventing homelessness and tackling poverty, a spending watchdog has said.
The Supporting People programme helps elderly, disabled and ill people, abuse victims, ex-offenders and refugees.
Auditor General Huw Vaughan Thomas said there were "inconsistencies" in the way funding was allocated and managed.
The Welsh Government said it would study the report's recommendations.
Since the programme's launch in 2003, local councils have been given money to fund housing support services for vulnerable people, either directly or via third-party providers.
It helps more than 67,000 people, of whom 40,000 are older people, to stay in their own homes and ease the pressure on health and social services.
The auditor's report said that, despite some improvements, progress on long-standing concerns about the programme's design and delivery had been "slow".
It had not "kept pace" with changing policy, the report said, in terms of new Welsh laws on social services, housing and future generations, or in response to UK government welfare reform.
Despite earlier calls for change, the report said the way the "substantial bulk" of services for older people were commissioned meant they were available only to tenants of council or social housing.
Although there was some "limited evidence" that grants had reduced the pressure on health services, plans to redistribute funding towards areas of Wales in greatest need had "not progressed as rapidly as anticipated".
The report urged ministers to prioritise a new funding formula, improve consistency of service, and return to giving three-year funding guidance, saying annual allocations to councils hampered local planning.
Mr Thomas said: "The Supporting People Programme provides important support to those who need it most.
"However, the Welsh Government, working with its partners, needs to do more to demonstrate the overall impact and value for money of the programme and to ensure that it is being delivered consistently in line with its expectations.
"There are important lessons to learn from the way the programme has developed, given the increased emphasis that the Welsh Government is placing on regional working in local government and the ways of working envisaged by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015."
Nick Ramsay AM, chairman of the assembly's public accounts committee, said: "The pace of progress is a concern and it is disappointing that the Welsh Government still does not have a good enough understanding of the programme's overall impact some 14 years on from its initial launch."
Community Housing Cymru chief executive Stuart Ropke said the scheme helped around 60,000 of "the most vulnerable and marginalised people to avoid homelessness and live independently in their communities" while reducing pressure on a range of public services.
"The Wales Audit Office report raises some points around governance and measurement that need exploring," he said.
"However it is vital that this fund is protected due to the positive impact it's had on people and services, and also because it encourages people to engage with education, training and employment opportunities."
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We welcome the Wales Audit Office's view that the Supporting People Programme provides important services and has made considerable progress in recent years.
"We will study the report and its recommendations in detail and respond in due course."