ARE YOU HOMELESS, SOFA SURFING OR AT RISK?

Female young person stands on a bridge

Homeless young people must be heard in this General Election

Ahead of the General Election on 12 December, we must shine light on an unjust benefits system that is denying young people the chance to move on from homelessness. Public affairs and campaigns officer Vicky Nevin discusses Centrepoint’s Chance to Move On campaign.

“Young people can always rely on their parents to put a roof over their head”.

This is a myth we must challenge in the lead up to the General Election. In England alone, an estimated 22,000 young people will face homelessness this Christmas. Unable to find anywhere to live, many will resort to sleeping on a friend’s sofa, a night bus or even the streets. 

Two thirds of young people at Centrepoint are homeless due to family breakdown, many are care leavers, and some have been forced to leave home due to overcrowding. Government policy that ignores this reality is failing young people. When they have no one to turn to, the government has a clear responsibility to step up. 

Young, homeless and forgotten by the benefits system

You would be forgiven for thinking that homeless young people have been forgotten by the benefits system. Particularly when it comes to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which decide how much housing benefit a person can claim to help find a home in the private rented sector. 

Usually, if someone has spent more than three months in homelessness accommodation, it is accepted that they should receive a higher LHA rate to help find a safe place to live. However this is not the case for under-25s. Even if they are homeless, young people remain on the lowest Local Housing Allowance rate, leaving them unable to cover the cost of rent and with nowhere to go

The expectation is that younger people are able to rent a cheap room in a shared house. However, in reality the options are simply not there - only 1 in 10 landlords report letting any shared accommodation at all. Aside from the lack of availability, sharing with strangers is not always suitable for vulnerable young people.

“I feel like if I move out of Centrepoint my situation won’t be stable”

This lack of affordable and suitable housing seriously affects young people like Aidan, who has lived at Centrepoint for three years: “I want to move on with my life, I’m ready to find my own place, but I can’t. I’ve thought about private renting, but because of my age I get less support and most properties don’t even accept benefit claimants. Some private landlords don’t want to let to young people either, because they have this stereotype that we’re trouble.”

Despite the challenges he’s faced, Aidan is progressing in the film industry and recently worked freelance on the new Bond film. He is now ready to leave Centrepoint and live independently, but faces barriers: “I feel like if I move out of Centrepoint my situation won’t be stable and that’s what I need in my life, more stability. I don’t want to have to worry about finding a new place after a while and going through the whole process again.”   

Aidan’s concerns were confirmed by private landlords - a third of whom said they would not consider letting their property to a young person moving on from homelessness. Their reason? The Local Housing Allowance rate is too low to cover the level of rent they wish to charge. This is no surprise, as research shows that in 94% of areas, private renting is unaffordable to people who need housing benefit. 

In our society, we should all have a safe place to call home

As part of a coalition of charities, Centrepoint is calling on the next government to increase investment in welfare assistance to end homelessness. The welfare safety net is broken: while housing costs have risen, benefit rates have been frozen since 2016, making it increasingly difficult to find a route out of homelessness. This situation is only made worse for homeless young people who receive the lowest rate due to their age.

The next Government must act urgently to end youth homelessness

Young people must be given a fair chance to move on from homlessness, to close their own front door and look towards a brighter future. This is a matter of urgency: Centrepoint can only help more homeless young people, if we are able to find long-term homes for those currently living in our accommodation. All political parties must now commit to including homeless young people in the higher one bedroom Local Housing Allowance rate. 

The last parliament saw 90 MPs from across party divides come together to show their support for a benefits system that treats homeless young people fairly. While this is a positive step, now is the time for action. To show your support for the Chance to Move On campaign, please sign our petition which will be presented to the next Government at 10 Downing Street.