Heather Spurr
Heather Spurr

By Heather Spurr

Cutting housing benefit for 18-21s will have devastating consequences

The government is removing a vital part of the housing safety net for 18 to 21-year-olds. Ministers should change their minds and reverse this decision to stop young people being forced onto the streets.

Today, the government laid measures to stop the majority of young people aged 18 to 21 receiving support for their rent if they  claim Universal Credit.

Despite rumours over the weekend that the government was considering abandoning the policy to avoid a spike in rough sleeping, ministers have decided to go ahead with the measure, starting from 1 April.

We are disappointed that the government has decided to press on with this ill-advised benefit cut.

What are the new measures?

Most young people aged between 18 and 21 will no longer be able to claim support for their housing costs when they apply for Universal Credit. Some people will be exempt, for example, families with children, those in full or part-time work, and people for whom it would be “inappropriate” to return home.

We are very concerned that such a vital source of support is being withdrawn for young people. By going through with this policy, ministers risk being culpable for leaving young people with no choice but to sleep on the streets. Rough sleeping is already rising as people’s options become increasingly limited.

It sounds like a lot of people will be exempt. So what’s the problem?

After talking with homelessness charities, including Shelter, the government has exempted some groups who are particularly at risk from the policy.

Not every young person has the luxury of being able to live with their parents and some people leave home to escape violence and abuse. The government has said it will exempt those for whom it will be “inappropriate” to return home.

Key to this will be what counts as “inappropriate” to return home, which is why future guidance on this issue will be really important.

Imagine the difficulty and indignity of having to explain to a work coach that you cannot return home because you are fleeing abuse. That is what young people will have to go through in order to claim support to keep a roof over their head.

We also believe that even people who are exempt from this measure will still be at risk of falling through the net and ending up on the street.

This is because of how Universal Credit works and the demands that private landlords place on prospective tenants.

1. To claim for Universal Credit, a person has to provide proof that they have a tenancy.

2. Landlords are likely to require proof that the young prospective tenant is exempt from the 18-21s policy and eligible for Universal Credit.

3. The ‘Catch 22’: In order to establish whether they are exempt from the measure, young people have to make a claim for Universal Credit.

The Catch 22: Here is an illustration that shows the barriers ‘Alex’ faces to securing accommodation because she has to find a landlord that will rent to her before making a Universal Credit claim.

 

What should the government be doing about it?

The government has decided to go through with this measure at the eleventh hour, despite warnings that it will cause significant harm to young adults with very few benefits. We urge the government to change its mind, bearing in mind the damaging consequences of this policy.

At the very least, ministers must double down to ensure that the measure does not force a new cohort of people onto the streets.

It must work with homelessness charities to make sure that landlords are not further discouraged from renting to young people. If the government doesn’t intend the ban to apply to a young person then they need to be able to reassure landlords that this will be the case, before they sign a tenancy. It could do this by implementing a system where a council or local charity could verify that the young person is exempt before they make a claim to Universal Credit.

And it must monitor this policy and scrap the measure if it results in more young people sleeping rough. We remain concerned that this will be the inevitable devastating consequence.

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