Stronger safeguards needed to protect young care leavers from homelessness, report says

A new report has called on the Government to tackle the issue of homelessness among care leavers ahead of the Care Review publishing its final recommendations.

10/05/22

Stronger safeguards needed to protect young care leavers from homelessness, report says

Safeguards against young people becoming homeless shortly after leaving care must be strengthened, a group of charities has urged.

Released ahead of the publication of the final recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, the report from Just for Kids Law proposes ‘tangible solutions’ the Government could deploy to help change the lives of young people to protect young care leavers from homelessness.

Previous research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ending Homelessness estimated in 2017 that one third of care leavers became homeless in the first two years immediately after leaving care, and this most recent report finds that COVID-19 has further exacerbated rough sleeping and homelessness among this group. In the last two years, New Horizon (who provide housing support to under 25s in London and collaborated with Just for Kids Law on the report) say they have seen an increase in care-experienced clients, from 24% in 2017-18 to 31% in 2020-21. Similarly, a 2021 survey by Homeless Link’s services reported the highest increase in care leavers rough sleeping compared to other cohorts (53%).

The report says the Government could make simple changes, such as extending priority need and abolishing so-called ‘intentionality’, to help care leavers in line with other provisions they provide for care leavers up to 25.

Care leavers aged 18-20 automatically have ‘priority need’ (an assessment of vulnerability) until they turn 21 and must prove their vulnerability. Although most homeless care leavers aged 21 and over will meet the vulnerability test, local authorities often ask for specific expert evidence of this vulnerability.

Just for Kids Law says 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. To prove their vulnerability, older care leavers can often be forced to pay their GP for a letter laying out their health issues, take part in invasive psychiatric assessments, or recount their past traumas multiple times to statutory services. They say extending priority need to homeless care leavers over 21 would 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.

Phil Kerry, CEO of New Horizon Youth Centre, said many of the young people presenting to them for support around their homelessness or sleeping rough are care leavers and are often already traumatised.

“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.”

Care leavers can also be found to be ‘intentionally homeless’ – and will therefore not be supported into long-term accommodation – 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.

Although guidance states that housing services should avoid intentionality decisions for care leavers aged 18-25, there is no clear duty on local authorities to do this.

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 charity says.

Louise King, Policy and Campaigns Director at Just for Kids Law, said that the 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.”

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