From care to where? Care leavers’ access to accommodation

This report is based on the accounts of young people who have left the care system and have navigated their way through the complex systems and processes to find a place to call home. They have lost tenancies, been homeless, accessed benefits, lost college places, battled poor mental health and failed to manage their finances.

However, they are also highly resilient young people. They have gone back to college, gained employment, made new friends, and learnt the skills needed to manage their own tenancy. They have persevered.

Executive Summary

Care leavers face many challenges in accessing housing stability and practitioners struggle to support them to do so. Too many care leavers are being forced to live in unsuitable conditions, sofa surf or sleep rough. Problems with the housing market, shortfalls of housing stock and young people’s practical and emotional readiness to live independently all impact on care leavers’ future outcomes.

While there are processes in place to overcome these challenges our research has shown that sometimes these processes fail. The care leavers in our research often faced a sudden transition to independence and felt unprepared for independent life. Many were not ready to manage a tenancy, especially in regards to paying bills and financial planning. They faced disruption to education, loss of support networks, being placed in poor quality accommodation and unsafe areas, and loneliness and isolation. While pathway plans are tools to aid preparation for independence, care leavers and practitioners agree that they could be more effective.

Local authorities continue to face complex challenges in delivering support for care leavers. Leaving care practitioners face increasing workloads with reduced capacity; resulting in care leavers not receiving as much support as they need. Both joint protocols with housing authorities and reciprocal arrangements between areas can also be limited in what they can achieve. Access to the private rented sector is extremely difficult. Housing benefit does not always cover the cost of rent and reduces when the care leaver turns 22 in line with local housing allowance.

There have been some positive policy changes to protect care leavers in recent years such as Staying Put and the extension of some care leaver provision up to age 25 under the Children and Social Work Act. However, this needs to go further. While other young people will continue to have the support of their parents well into adulthood, the government must ensure that care leavers receive all the support they need too. Our recommendations highlight the areas where support should be extended in line with the Government’s commitment to good corporate parenting.

Key findings and recommendations


Unrealistic expectations about life after care

Time spent under the care of the local authority influences how successfully a care leaver lives independently after care. The reasons for entering the care system also continue to have a long-lasting impact; the majority of children enter the care system due to abuse or neglect

Both care leavers and practitioners felt that unrealistic expectations about living independently were barriers to a successful transition. Some had no clear understanding of what it means to sustain a tenancy, pay rent or apply for benefits. Many care leavers were simply excited to have more independence and freedom away from foster carers or social workers. However, upon reflection, they acknowledged that they were not prepared and did not really understand what living independently involved

Inadequate pathway planning

Some care leavers did not feel actively involved in decisions about their accommodation. While practitioners reported that discussions about leaving care usually begin when the young person is 16, some young people had not engaged with or understood these discussions. Pathway plans document how a care leaver’s needs will be met.

However, many of those interviewed had not been actively involved in creating their pathway plans, did not have one, were unsure about its contents or did not know how to access it.

Disruption to education

Care leavers are much less likely than their peers to be in education, employment or training. During 2015/16,  40 per cent of care leavers aged 19 to 21 were not in  education, employment or training (NEET).7 Though not  directly comparable, the percentage of NEET 18 to 24  year olds averaged much lower at 16 per cent across 2015/16.8

Our research found that moving into independence often coincided with what one participant described as a ‘critical time’ in education, as both the leaving care and leaving school age are now 18. Worryingly, some care leavers had moved before completing their GCSEs and our survey revealed that 19 per cent of care leavers had fewer than five A* to C GCSEs. The disruption was often due to being placed far away from the institution they were studying in, which impacted on their attendance

Social housing

The availability of social housing varies greatly between local authority areas. Social housing is the accommodation type with the biggest shortfall, according to 32 per cent of practitioners surveyed. Affordable social housing has been declining for a number of years. There were only 6,800 additional affordable units for social rent in 2015/16 compared to 39,560 additional units in 2010/11

Supported accommodation

Most local authorities have supported accommodation schemes in some form; bedrooms with shared facilities, bedsits or self-contained flats, with support available 24/7 on-site, in the daytime only or on-call support  at night.10 Nationally, 10 per cent of care leavers aged 19 to 21 were living in semi-independent, transitional accommodation in 2016.

For many of the participants, supported accommodation was a stepping stone, before moving into more independent accommodation. This research suggested that the supported accommodation provided to care leavers varied in quality and suitability. Some had poor experiences in supported accommodation.

Private rented sector

Private accommodation is increasingly important given the shortage of other accommodation types and length of waiting lists. However, there are a number of barriers preventing care leavers from accessing private tenancies. Private landlords are subject to a lower degree of regulation and so rent tends to be much higher than the social housing sector, particularly in London and the South East. Many landlords demand rent upfront alongside a deposit, which is especially difficult for care leavers who do not have the financial support of their family. According to 60 per cent of the practitioners we surveyed, rent deposits and bond guarantee schemes are offered to care leavers in their area. Care leavers are also entitled to a setting up home allowance of £2,000 to buy essential household items; this is not to cover the cost of rent or a deposit.

Experiences of homelessness (sofa surfing and rough sleeping)

Worryingly, some care leavers had experienced homelessness after leaving care. Participants talked about the impact it had on their mental health and feelings of security as well as the wider impact on the people that care leavers were reliant upon. Two had sofa surfed for over a year.

Living in precarious housing situations or being homeless meant that young people were unable to move on with their lives because they did not know what to expect one day to the next

Care leavers do succeed

Against the odds, many care leavers have very good outcomes, despite pitfalls along the way. The challenges that they have faced and overcome have meant that they have grown into resilient young adults.

Allowing young people to take positive risks in a supported environment enables them to build their resilience and their confidence. Having the right support is crucial to this and ensures that young people keep themselves safe and avoid dangerous risk taking behaviour as they grow. Sharing positive examples was cited as key, ensuring that care leavers know that they are not destined for negative outcomes.


Care leavers are the responsibility of the corporate parent. While other young people will continue to have the support of their parents well into adulthood, the government must ensure that care leavers receive the support they need too.

The Government should:

  • Exempt all care leavers under the age of 21 from council tax payments to ensure uniformity across local authorities
  • Amend homelessness legislation to extend priority need to include all care leavers under the age of 25
  • Remove homelessness intentionality for all care leavers under the age of 21
  • Extend the exemption of care leavers from the Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance until the age of 25
  • Establish a national care leaver rent deposit scheme to enable care leavers to access private rented accommodation
  • Extend the entitlement of looked-after children to an Independent Visitor to care leavers aged 25
  • Process all benefit claims from care leavers up to 8 weeks before their 18th birthday to ensure they receive their first payment as soon as they turn 18
  • Bring children’s legislation in line with homelessness legislation by enabling all care leavers, not just those assessed as homeless, to qualify for local connection if they have been resident in that area for at least two years

Local authorities should:

  • Formally review their Pathway Plan process in consultation with looked-after children and care leavers to ensure it is accessible and flexible
  • Ensure all care leavers in their area have access to floating support at any point until the age of 25, including those in private rented accommodation
  • Ensure all care leavers in their area know about and have access to an independent person at any point until the age of 25