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Draconian and unwarranted

The end of automatic entitlement to support with housing costs for 18-21 year olds sets a dangerous precedent for young people, argues Frances Beecher.

Llamau works with thousands of young people every year in Wales who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, and we fear the introduction of this new legislation will significantly increase the number of young people at risk of homelessness. Homelessness charities across the UK estimate that as many as 9,000 young people could be put at risk of homelessness as a result of this legislation.

So what will the introduction mean in reality? In Wales, little changed initially on April, as the legislation will apply only to young people in Full Service Universal Credit (FSUC) areas, and there is just one FSUC area in Wales: Shotton, in Flintshire. However, as the rollout of universal credit continues, this policy will begin to affect more and more young people. The government expects all areas to be FSUC by September 2018.

The legislation will mean the end of automatic entitlement to support for housing costs for 18-21 years who are not working full time. There is a list of exemptions for the legislation, and it is designed primarily for young people who are single, able to work and wouldn’t be receiving any other benefit (such as DLA or PIP, for example).

However, we firmly believe that the exemptions outlined in the regulations, while welcome, must be far more comprehensive and must not place an unrealistic burden on vulnerable young people to prove that it is unsafe or unsuitable for them to live at home.

While we work closely with the young people we support to rebuild relationships with their families where appropriate, many young people are able to make better progress towards living independent and purposeful lives in their communities when they are given the opportunity to live apart from their families. Forcing these young people to return to their families is likely to hinder their progress and damage their chances of educational achievement and future employment.

If we cannot succeed in changing what is a draconian and unwarranted attack on the rights of 18-21 year olds, then there must be a passport system introduced for the most vulnerable to homelessness.

Existing assessments of a young person’s ability to live at home, particularly homelessness assessments, should be formalised and accepted by the Department for Work and Pensions as evidence of eligibility for an exemption, without the need for further assessment.

Through our own training programmes, Learning 4 Life and Symud Ymlaen/Moving Forward, we support young people back into work, training and education. However, many of the young people we support simply could not access training provision without financial support for housing while they are in training. Housing benefit provides vital support while they are making positive steps towards a future in employment – removing this entitlement is very likely to increase their need for benefits in the future.

We understand the need to not live beyond our means; it is something we teach the young people we support when we teach them how to create a budget and manage their money. However, we firmly believe that this policy will not save the government money.

Research by Herriot Watt University[1] found that the total saving associated with the new legislation would be just £3.3 million, and that even these savings would be eroded if just 140 young people were made homeless as a result of the legislation.

When we asked the young people we support what they would do if they couldn’t access housing benefit, many of them answered that they would be homeless, particularly when their families would not be in a position to support them.

With the right support, vulnerable and disadvantaged young people can achieve great things, and can make incredible progress towards living independent and purposeful lives. For these reasons, we strongly encourage the Government to reverse this legislation. At the very least, we urge the Government to review the exemptions outlined in the legislation to ensure that the most vulnerable young people are protected from significant risk of homelessness.

To this end, we have started a petition to the UK Government to reverse the legislation. We are urging everyone who believes that our young people deserve better to sign it: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/189220.

Frances Beecher is chief executive of Llamau

[1] centrepoint.org.uk/media/1716/housing-benefit-exec-summary.pdf

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