Councils 'fail to equip' care leavers to manage their money

Adam Offord
Thursday, September 15, 2016

??Young people leaving the care system are falling into debt and losing benefits due to insufficient financial education and support from councils, research has found.

Plans to exempt Scottish care leavers from council tax should reduce debt problems, campaigners say. Image: Shutterstock
Plans to exempt Scottish care leavers from council tax should reduce debt problems, campaigners say. Image: Shutterstock

??The Children's Society said that despite government guidance stating the importance of care leavers receiving financial support and advice, there is "significant variation" in the support provided by local authorities in England and "inconsistent" support from personal advisers.

??The warning comes in the charity's The Cost of Being Care Free report, which analysed responses from local authorities and a focus group of care leavers and practitioners.

It found that out of 111 authorities, 47 per cent do not commission or provide additional financial support for care leavers beyond the advice provided by personal advisers.

For the 53 per cent of authorities providing additional support, this included workshops on budgeting, household bills, saving and investing money; access to advice agencies and independent advice; and one-to-one sessions on budgeting, paying bills and accessing advice agencies.

However, just 13 per cent of these councils were found to offer one-to-one advice, while 40 per cent commission or provide one-to-one support and group workshops.

??"There is no clear consistency in the support that is offered, and this is a real cause for concern," the report said. ??

"The lack of uniformity in the financial support offered by authorities means that care leavers can't be sure that they will receive the support and guidance that they need during their transition into independent living."

The Children's Society warned that as a result of care leavers missing out on financial education, many do not know how to pay bills, manage their money, or open a bank account. ??

A Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that 3,960 benefit sanctions were applied to care leavers between October 2013 and September 2015.

?However, the charity warned that the true number of care leavers facing a sanction is likely to be far greater as the DWP data is based on self-reported care leavers.  ??

In addition, the research suggests that many care leavers do not know how to challenge sanctions. While 23 per cent of the general population challenged sanctions over the two-year period, the figure for self-reported care leavers was just 16 per cent.

But when challenges are made, care leavers have a higher success rate (62 per cent) compared with the general population (50 per cent).

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, said it is "unacceptable" that children leaving care are being failed by councils, and called for change.??

"We see from our work the damaging effect this has as care leavers are going without food and other basic necessities because their benefits have been stopped," he said.

??"These young people lack the safety net provided by family that most children get as they become adults. ?
"It is the local authority's responsibility to act as a responsible parent and make sure these children know how to manage their money and are able to live independently as adults."??

The charity has now called for a "new covenant" for care leavers that ensures financial education and support for young people are explicitly part of the pathway plan and for personal advisers to be trained in how to support the young people they advise on financial matters.

??It also wants the agreement to ensure all care leavers are exempt from paying council tax until the age of 25, regardless of immigration status. ??

Last month, an inquiry by the communities and local government select committee called for care leavers to be exempt from council tax until they reach 21.

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