- Blog > Government needs to rethink housing benefit policy that’s set to make more young people homeless
Depaul UK Responds to Benefits Policy
By Daniel Dumoulin - 8 March 2017
Here at Depaul UK we were shocked to see the Government is pressing ahead with its plan to remove 18-to-21-year-olds’ entitlement to housing benefit from 1 April.
This policy will make more young people homeless, forcing many to sleep in unsafe places. We are urgently calling on the Government to think again about this dangerous and unfair approach.
If it goes ahead, far more young people will need emergency accommodation services such as Depaul’s Nightstop. It will also make it harder for these services, many of which are already short of volunteer hosts, to meet the increased demand and support young people to live independently and to reach their full potential.
The Government has justified this policy by saying young people should not be allowed to opt in to the benefit system, but, instead, should live with their parents.
The problem is that family breakdown is the biggest reason why young people staying with Depaul need housing benefit in the first place.
This poorly thought through policy will have a major impact on young people who simply cannot live with their parents. This might be because they have been orphaned or have suffered physical or sexual abuse at home, or have serious issues with a parent’s partner or others living in the family home.
Last year we surveyed 505 young people using our floating support and supported accommodation services and found that around 55 percent - 274 - had been asked to leave by their family, more than 15 percent (80) had experienced domestic violence, including from family members, and nine percent (46) had left the care system.
Now this policy means thousands of young people who find themselves in these terrible situations in future will find it much harder to get a safe roof over their heads.
The Government has provided exemptions that it claims will protect young people who cannot live with their parents. Although they look fine on paper, and to its credit the Government listened to homelessness organisations including Depaul UK when drafting them, they are not going to work for many young people.
The reason is that young people will need to find a landlord willing to rent to them before they can apply for these exemptions. Crucially, this means landlords will have to agree to let their properties to a person without knowing whether they will qualify for these exemptions. So if a landlord lets their property to a young person who goes on to fail to meet the criteria for exemptions, they will be stuck with a tenant who cannot pay the rent.
In the face of this inherent uncertainty, it is highly likely that many landlords will not let property to anyone aged under 22 who has to claim benefits to help with housing costs.
Therefore, more young people will be forced to sleep in unsafe places. They will have to decide whether to try to stay at home where they’re not safe or wanted, or move out with no way of knowing if they will be able to find accommodation or pay the rent. Our research and experience tell us that young people in these situations often resort to extremely dangerous living arrangements.
Young people living in Depaul UK’s supported accommodation won’t be affected while they remain under our roof. But we are very concerned that they’ll find it much harder to move out into a place of their own when they are ready, which means that fewer spaces will become available for others who need them.
And young people will also be reliant on our emergency accommodation Nightstop services for longer periods of time.
We ask the Government to think again about this policy. It has committed itself to reducing homelessness – but this ill-conceived policy will do the opposite. It is not too late to change.
But if it goes ahead, more young people are going to need Nightstop and it will be even more important that every community is ready to step up to ensure that no young person sleeps in an unsafe place.
* Daniel Dumoulin is Depaul UK's Policy & Public Affairs Mana