It was back in 2012 when David Cameron, then Prime Minister, first suggested young people should not be entitled to claim housing benefit. This was a time when the Government was prioritising balancing the country’s economic books, even if it would push some of the most vulnerable young people in the country into homelessness.
A devastating impact for homeless young people
The government estimated the policy would produce savings of £40m by 2020/21 but our research suggested the savings would be far lower and would instead have a devastating impact for homeless young people.
“It is not acceptable that in an economy moving towards full employment, some young people leave school and go straight on to a life on benefits... We are abolishing the automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds,” said George Osbourne in his 2015 Budget speech.
Centrepoint campaigned hard to protect the rights of as many young people as possible and we were successful in exempting some groups from the cut, including care leavers, young people fleeing domestic violence and young parents.
Take a look at our video from the time – "Could you get by on less than £600 a month?"
"No unintended barriers to young people"
The policy was introduced in April 2017 and we saw the damaging impact it had. Young people had to find evidence to prove their vulnerability, often disclosing really sensitive and difficult information. It was their responsibility to prove they should get the benefit.
Landlords did not want to let to them as it was too risky. Our Ready to Move On research revealed only one in five private landlords would be happy to let to a tenant receiving Universal Credit.
One young person was denied a tenancy even though he was in employment – just in case he lost his job and wouldn’t be able to claim benefits to cover their rent. The situation was looking increasingly bleak.
But in March 2018, it was finally announced that the policy would be revoked.
“This decision ensures that there are no unintended barriers to young people accessing housing on the basis of their age alone and getting into work, and is in line with the Government’s launch of the Homelessness Reduction Act and our commitment to eradicating rough sleeping by 2027,” said Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the time.
Still much more to do
Supporting young people into a job and a home is at the centre of everything we do at Centrepoint, but we know some will have a long and difficult journey to get there. Benefits are a crucial lifeline.
“It was too much. I had too much going on, you know? It’s like they are telling me to do all these things… I’m trying to, you know, get somewhere to stay, a roof over my head, food, all that,” said one Centrepoint young person.
We’re pleased that all young people can now get support with their housing costs if they are in crisis. We couldn’t have achieved this without the help of our supporters – hundreds of you signed our petition and wrote to your local MP.
As we begin 2019, we still have lots of work to do to ensure that the welfare system is fit for purpose.