18 – 21 year olds face homelessness as Government withdraws housing benefit

From 1st April 2017, changes to the welfare system mean that thousands of young people aged between 18 and 21 will no longer be entitled to claim housing benefit.

Removing the safety net from vulnerable young adults will inevitably lead to an increase in homelessness, whether that is rough sleeping or the hidden homelessness of sofa-surfing.

This change comes as a result of The Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.  It is expected to affect 10,000 young people with a paltry saving to the Government of £105 million.

Despite lobbying from homelessness charities such as Shelter and Crisis, the Government has refused to back down.Since the election of the Coalition in 2010, there has been a systematic undermining of the welfare state coupled with a demonization of those that are out of work.  

When George Osborne announced plans to cut a further £10 billion from welfare spending, he proclaimed: “How can we justify giving flats to young people who have never worked, when working people twice their age are still living with their parents because they can't afford their first home?” 

They may be depicted by the Daily Mail as workshy teenagers demanding their entitlement to housing but the reality is somewhat different. Young people rarely leave home without good cause.  There are a whole host of reasons why it is not appropriate for them to continue to live in their family home, including sexual abuse, violence or threats, parental drink or drugs problems and homophobia. 

The Government claims that it has put safeguards in place by exempting some categories of young people, such as those leaving the care system or seriously disabled people.  They have also exempted those who have worked over 16 hours a week for the previous 6 months but only if their earnings were above a certain threshold. This means that low-earning but in-work Universal Credit claimants will lose their access to housing benefit.

Young adults escaping problematic home lives will be placed in an impossible position.  In order to claim Universal Credit, they need to have an existing tenancy agreement but a landlord will not rent out accommodation without a guarantee that they will be entitled to housing benefit in the first place. This is a Catch 22 situation and will not help young people to find employment as the task of job-seeking is more difficult without stable accommodation.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey, has said: “This disgraceful cut to housing support will leave thousands of young people with nowhere to go. Many could end up on the streets.” 

Youth homelessness is already a problem.  45% of people in homelessness accommodation and hostels were aged under 24 years according to the Annual Review of Single Homelessness Support in England.  

There has been an upsurge in homelessness more generally, with a year on year increase over the past 6 years, resulting in a rise of 54% since 2010.  Shockingly, the number of rough sleepers has grown by an enormous 134% in just 5 years. At the same time, services are stretched to breaking point, with 47% of homelessness projects reporting a decrease in their funding.  

This Government is prepared to throw away the life-chances of some of the most vulnerable young people in society in return for a small saving to the welfare bill. Research by Heriot-Watt University and the charity Centrepoint found that the savings would be as little as £3.3 million pounds. Ironically, this means that ifjust 140 young people are made homeless as a result of this policy and have to access homelessness support services, it will actually cost taxpayers more money overall.

Compiled by:
Kate Purcell C
WU Research Department