The illusion of home

Yesterday, the Chancellor announced a proposal to remove housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds. Based on previous plans to remove housing benefit for under 25s, we can expect exemptions for families, care-leavers and disabled young adults. The exact details are not yet public, but the proposal gives us a number of very worrying concerns.

Young adults who don’t meet the exemption criteria will seemingly no longer be able to get any help with the rent. If they don’t have anywhere else safe and secure to stay, they will face homelessness.

Sadly, this is not a mistake.

A mistake would be imagining every young adult has a safe parental home to go back to.

A mistake would be imagining that this policy in its current form could work without leaving young adults with no choice but the streets, or a dangerous home environment.

Limitless exemptions?  

We’ve argued before that targeted exemptions can’t protect everyone who needs and deserves support, because some young adults will always fail to tick the right boxes.

Even seemingly straightforward cases could be challenging, because there are so many complex reasons young people may need to move away from their family, and may need government help to do so.

What happens to the young man who heroically tries to escape a life of gang violence by leaving their home town? Or the young woman fleeing a violent household where the perpetrator hasn’t yet been convicted? Or the young person kicked out by their parents because of their sexual orientation?

The list of exemptions would need to be endless, rendering the policy meaningless. Even then, how would these young people officially prove that their case was a genuine one?

Full disclosure?  

Some people under 21 will be able to satisfy the exemption criteria.  But as housing benefit changes into Universal Credit, and moves out from local authority control, it’s not clear who these young adults will need to make their case to.

The Department for Work and Pensions has struggled to identify claimants at risk of getting into rent arrears.  How will they spot that a young woman is at risk of being forced into a marriage by her parents? The system is simply not set up to deal with complex and sensitive issues like this.

Our helpline advisers know that people often don’t come forward until crisis point, and sadly this means we’re sometimes unable to prevent them becoming homeless.

For a vulnerable young adult, having to disclose their tale of abuse to JobCentre Plus could feel like an insurmountable barrier to getting help.

Bureaucratic transparency?  

Without housing benefit, pressure will grow on other parts of the system that can help to accommodate young adults in specific circumstances.

Sixteen and 17 year olds already sit outside mainstream housing provision, and our frontline services often find that this can cause confusion locally between social services and housing departments.  The potential for confusion will now be extended over thousands more cases – is the young man orphaned at twenty to be eligible for help, or turned away with nowhere to go?

Removing government help to pay the rent will not change the situations of these young adults. They will still need a safe and secure home .

Shelter opposes removing housing benefit from under 21s, because every young adult deserves somewhere safe and decent to live.