Safeguards needed to prevent homelessness among care leavers

Safeguards needed to prevent homelessness among care leavers

Stronger safeguards could protect young care leavers from homelessness, a report by Just for Kids Law in collaboration with New Horizons Youth Centre and Youth Legal.

The report argues that by extending priority need for homeless care leavers up to the age of 25 and abolishing becoming “intentionally homeless” for care leavers would help care leavers start their adult lives on the right track in line with other provisions governments provide for care leavers up to 25.

Louise King, Policy and Campaigns Director at Just for Kids Law, said: “The Independent Care Review is an important opportunity for the Government to reimagine a care system that supports young care leavers to have a stable future.

“It’s unreasonable to make young care leavers in crisis jump through unnecessary administrative hoops to prove their vulnerability and it’s absurd to withhold support to young people for being “intentionally homelessness placing them at risk.”

“After a year of sharing ideas and evidence with the Care Review and supporting the young people we work with to do the same, we urge the team to include our practical proposals to ensure homeless care leavers receive the protection and support they need.”

Prior to the pandemic, one third of care leavers became homeless in the first two years immediately after leaving care. Covid 19 has further exacerbated rough sleeping and homelessness among this group and in the last two years, New Horizon, which provides housing support to under 25s in London, have seen an increase in care-experienced clients, rising from 24% in 2017-18 to 31% in 2020-21.

Furthermore, in 2021, Homeless Link’s survey, services reported the highest increase in care leavers rough sleeping compared to other cohorts (53%).

The report offers insights from care leavers who have become homeless, and solutions the government could introduce to help change the lives of young people in similar situations, ahead of the Independent Care Review publishing its final recommendations to government later this month.

Care leavers aged 18-20 automatically have an assessment of vulnerability until they turn 21 and have to prove their vulnerability. Although the vast majority of homeless care leavers aged 21 and over will meet the vulnerability test, local authorities often ask for specific expert evidence of this vulnerability.

But this can be especially hard for a care leaver to gather without help from a housing professional or lawyer, while also likely negotiating with friends to sleep on their sofas or sleeping in the streets.

Extending priority need to homeless care leavers over 21 would, the report argues, remove this unnecessary barrier and prevent them ending up homeless and without the entitlements and longer-term, stable accommodation they would be owed under homeless legislation.

In addition, care leavers can also be found to be ‘intentionally homeless’ if they have left accommodation that the local authority deemed suitable, even if they felt unsafe in the accommodation or fell behind on their rent and got evicted. Without the same support networks, rent arrears can often build up. Someone deemed intentionally homeless will not be supported into long-term accommodation.

Removing the possibility for care leavers to be made intentionally homeless will ensure they get the protections and entitlements that should be afforded to them as care leavers who are homeless and crucially the longer-term accommodation that will enable them to have a secure future, the report says.

Phil Kerry, CEO of New Horizon Youth Centre, said: “So many of the young people presenting to New Horizon for support around their homelessness or sleeping rough have leaving care status. Already often traumatised, we see daily how this contributes to further hardship.

“While we work closely with local authorities to prevent and solve this, more structural responses are needed. We particularly call on government to extend automatic priority need to under-25 with care leaving status as a crucial safeguard in helping them give their potential a home.”

Valerie Clark, Director of Youth Legal, said: “Every day we see care leavers who are homeless or inappropriately housed. Access to young person-friendly legal advice can be crucial for many of these young people in order to challenge the unlawful gatekeeping and failure to uphold their rights which has become endemic within local authority housing and homelessness services.

“Extending priority need up to age 25 and abolishing intentionality would be simple measures that would help turn the tide for homeless care leavers and remove some of the barriers to the basic right to stable accommodation,” she concluded.

Hitting brick walls: Barriers faced by homeless care leavers

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