Young people don't know their housing rights - and it's working against them

06 May 2022

Why are we talking about housing?

For the young people we support, our aim, our mantra, is “a job and a home”. Essentially, we want to see young homeless people move on to independence, and not just survive, but to thrive in a job they enjoy and accommodation they can call their own.

Housing should be a right for everyone. And yet, rates of homelessness in the UK continue to rise. The latest figures from our Youth Homelessness Databank show nearly 122,000 young people faced homelessness in the UK between April 2020 and end of March 2021.

This is undoubtedly in part due to the hangover of Covid-19, but despite major policy initiatives aimed at tackling homelessness during this time – ‘Everybody In’, the temporary eviction ban, and the temporary Universal Credit uplift – the numbers of young people approaching their local authority for help has still increased.

What’s the issue here?

There are many reasons why young people aren’t able to access accommodation – in fact, we’re about to go through a few of them here. But for the majority, the crux of it is this: it’s harder than ever to get into and stay in affordable housing. As of 2021, there were 1.19 million households on social housing waiting lists in England and renters continue to pay extortionate amounts for private housing, which prices out many.

This is only set to get worse: the cost of living crisis, increase in ‘no-fault’ evictions and overstretched housing budgets will put the livelihoods of many more homeless people at risk in the months to come.

The subject of housing is a precarious one, even if you’re able to secure accommodation. Once young people in our services find a more permanent home, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re now on steady ground. Private tenants will sometimes face issues like Section 21 evictions. “We’re certainly seeing the impact of the eviction ban ending in calls to our helpline,” says Alicia Walker, Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns. “The number of calls we’re receiving from young people facing homelessness because of eviction is probably at its highest ever level.”

These things can have a detrimental effect on vulnerable young people – as Billy Harding, our Policy and Research Manager, puts it: “Homelessness and housing insecurity creates trauma and can lead to long-term damage to a young person’s physical and mental health. It destroys stability and causes disruption to young people’s ability to access and sustain education, and their ability to find employment.”

And the consequences can get worse: new research shows in 2021, 1,200 people died while homeless in the UK – a 32% increase on the year before. There are many aspects to this number: access to mental health and housing services were two of the most prominent (and often go hand-in-hand). “Many fatalities [occurred] in unsafe, unregulated, tax-payer funded accommodation,” the study from the Museum of Homelessness concluded.

What are the housing barriers for young people?

“Everyone we work with is an individual, and have their own experiences,” Clove, our Rough Sleepers Coordinator, explains. This means that there are a breadth of barriers for young people finding housing, and it can affect them at all different stages of the process. According to our research, mental health issues were reported in over half (54%) of homeless young people. This number is higher in rough sleepers. “A lot of young people are scared to go indoors,” Clove says, “because last time they were in accommodation they may have gone through a trauma. So it’s about building that trust and finding somewhere suitable.”

Many of the young people Clove does outreach work with will be housed in supported accommodation, a housing scheme where the property comes with support designed to help people develop the practical, social and emotional skills to move into more mainstream housing. This can be long term or short term, and includes help with mental health, drugs and alcohol, and debt. We have specialist services to support these wide-ranging needs, including single parents, those leaving care and those escaping violence.

When moving on from Centrepoint services, many young people will be eligible for social housing. This is where the council, or local Housing Association, act as your landlord, meaning properties are more affordable and more secure than private renting. In 2018, Theresa May scrapped the cap on the council’s borrowing for building homes and the plan was to build more – but then the pandemic hit. Local authority providers saw another decline in the number of low cost rental homes.

So there is a distinct lack of social housing available, and wait lists are at an all-time high, meaning many attempt to privately rent. Those who are able to rent privately face another set of barriers: most young people when leaving our care will be in receipt of Universal Credit, but the scrapping of the UC uplift means many will be left to make detrimental sacrifices. They will also be eligible for Local Housing Allowance, but often the cover isn’t sufficient, and potential tenants could face discrimination for claiming benefits. The most one can usually claim with LHA is the rent for a single room in a shared house in their area – even if they don’t live in shared housing.

Above all else, young people Centrepoint work with are just that: young. This can be a barrier in itself. They are new to living independently and often haven’t had guidance in budgeting or paying bills and rent. They are unsure of what type of housing would be best for them, and once they’re in, they don’t know their rights when it comes to things like eviction, benefits, repairs, or safety requirements.

What does Centrepoint do?

At Centrepoint, we have a multi-pronged approach to helping homeless young people move on to independence.

Clove will work with young homeless people in Manchester from the time they are sleeping rough until they are in long-term accommodation. “It’s about being flexible and transparent, and really person-centred – everyone we work with is an individual.”

This is how we try to approach it. When young people move on from our services, we want to ensure they have the skills they need to flourish in their new life. In line with our ‘job and home’ mission, we ensure that young people are given the opportunity to build up their skillset with functional maths and English courses, and help them get into employment by building their CV, and involving young people in our Get Set Go training programme.

All these things help young people ensure they can keep a roof over their heads. But, we also want to ensure that those who have never handled their own finances before can do so before being asked to pay bills and rent; our Moneywise course ensures young people have financial literacy, and are able to create budgets, understand their bills and save money for their independence.

Young people like Rich really benefit from such courses. Before coming to Centrepoint Rich was living in a privately rented property, but because he lacked certain budgeting skills (essential when living on very little money), he was evicted due to rent arrears. In our services, he was teamed with a key worker who helped teach him some basics for independent living: “If there was an issue, she helped me deal with it. She gave me a lot of budgeting advice. Nothing was too much [or] out the way.”

Play video Video thumbnail of a young person outside texting on their phone

Katelin's story

Our Independent Living Programme aims to help young people who are in employment but stuck between the social housing waitlist and unaffordable private rent – like Katelin, who was priced out of renting but found a place on the scheme. ILP provides secure accommodation for those between 18-25 and in work or an apprenticeship – and the best bit? Young people won’t pay more than a third of what they earn in rent. “To me it means hope and prosperity,” Katelin says. “It offers accommodation for five years consistently – you’re not going to get more stable than that.”

And for those struggling to understand their rights when it comes to housing, we’re here to help. “We might have someone who has been supported by social services since they were 16, and at 21 they are ready to live independently. ‘I need to move out, but where can I go? Do social services have a responsibility to house me?’” Nina, Co-ordinator for Centrepoint’s legal advice offer, explains. Our external partnerships mean we can connect young people with lawyers who can provide advice on a range of topics. “We would let the young person know they can make a referral on this issue. Lawyers would listen to the young person and ask questions to ascertain what their legal rights are. The legal clinics are about equipping young people with the information they need to make informed choices, advocate for themselves or in some cases, challenge decisions made about them.”

What can we all do?

We know that this is a complicated subject, so this May we want to shine a spotlight on long-term accommodation, from types of tenancies to eviction rights, so homeless young people can better navigate the housing system and have a smoother, more transparent, and more enjoyable transition to independence. Whether you’re a social tenant or privately renting, we want you to know your rights so that you can find somewhere to call home and hang on to it.

This is a really tricky time in our history – the cost of living crisis continues to rage on, whilst cuts to crucial payments for vulnerable young people makes homelessness more of an inevitability than ever. It’s vital that homeless young people know their rights, and are able to find safe, secure accommodation. Our supporters can help us with this. Donations made to Centrepoint go towards everything from accommodation to education to mental health care.

Not everyone is in a position to donate right now, and we completely understand. Instead, supporters can join the fight: sign up to be a campaigner and help us lobby decision-makers on the things that matter most to young people and will ultimately help them on their way to independence: better benefits, safe accommodation, secure employment.

You can sign up to become a Centrepoint campaigner here.

And you can donate to Centrepoint here.