Youth homelessness rise linked to welfare reforms, report finds

By Joe Lepper

| 16 April 2018

Government welfare reforms, including the introduction of Universal Credit and the capping of housing benefit, are contributing to a rise in youth homelessness, a report has concluded.

More than half of homelessness providers reported an increase in demand among young people for their services over the last year. Picture: Homeless Link

The Young and Homeless 2018 report by homelessness services membership body Homeless Link, includes a survey of nearly 200 providers and council representatives.

Among homelessness providers, 55 per cent reported an increase in demand among young people for their services over the last year and 45 per cent said there had been an increase in young men sleeping rough.

More than a quarter of young people accessing services over the last 12 months are aged 16 or 17. Those responding to the survey said that a key factor in the rise is the challenges young people face around welfare reforms.

Around nine out of 10 (92 per cent) said that delays in receiving Universal Credit are impacting on youth homelessness rates. Benefit sanctions are cited as a factor by 90 per cent and 80 per cent said the cap on housing benefit is also having an effect. 

The Universal Credit system of paying housing costs direct to claimants, rather than landlords, is also called into question by homelessness providers and councils. Seven out of 10 (72 per cent) said this was impacting on young people's access to housing and three quarters (75 per cent) said monthly rental arrears was another impact.

"Delayed payments are one area of particular concern with 92 per cent of the local authorities and homelessness providers stating they were impacting on young people's ability to access and sustain accommodation in their area," states the report.

It adds: "Many young people have limited budgeting skills and lack experience in managing a tenancy. These factors in turn raise concerns about the changes under Universal Credit where the default position is that housing costs are paid directly to claimants."

The main reason for young people needing accommodation is parents or carers no longer being willing or able to offer them accommodation. This was cited as a factor in half (49 per cent) of cases, while drug and alcohol problems is a factor in one in three cases (31 per cent).

Financial problems caused by benefits reduction was a cause of homelessness in one in 10 cases (nine per cent).

"The picture of youth homelessness is extremely concerning, and there is clear evidence that systemic issues such as welfare reform and the housing crisis are worsening the situation," said Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson.

"While youth homelessness charities and councils are working hard to successfully support many young people away from homelessness, more needs to be done.

"It is vital that we focus on preventing homelessness among vulnerable young people, and that those who do become homeless are able to get the support they need."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Everyone deserves a safe place to live and we have already implemented a range of measures to tackle homelessness that have been welcomed by charities.

"We have introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act, made housing benefit available for 18- to 21-year-olds on Universal Credit and brought in extra rent support for people moving from housing benefit to Universal Credit.

"The government is providing over £1.2bn up to 2020 to reduce all forms of homelessness and we are investing in a Fair Chance Programme to support 18- to 25-year-olds with specific needs to help them find suitable accommodation and support."

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