Since 1 April 2017, people over 18 but less than 22 years old are no longer entitled to the housing cost element of Universal Credit.
This is predicted to affect around 11,400 young people nationally, according to research by Inside Housing, who must also be single and required to look, and be available for, full-time work.
But for those in desperate or difficult situations, housing benefit is a vital lifeline that helps to provide stability and security. Not every young person has the luxury of being able to live with their parents and some leave home to escape violence and abuse. In order to receive housing costs, it is now up to them to prove to Work Coaches and benefits staff that they cannot just “go home”.
Whether still studying, leaving care, or in a first-time job, young adults may not be able to afford to live independently. The costs of moving, deposits, and stocking a house in order to live independently are understandably beyond the means of young people fleeing abuse.
Were the regulation to affect him, 18 year old Sam’s life would be drastically different. He was homeless for nearly a year, eventually getting a place in a youth service. His support worker says that he attended college throughout and took excellent care of his hostel accommodation.
“I spent four months in hostels. Before this I lived with my mum, but we just didn’t get on. I moved out to save any relationship we might have in the future.”
Sam has rallied friends and saved money where he can, so he has a lot of the things he needs for moving. But his new social accommodation is empty, with bare concrete floors. We were able to cover the costs of buying flooring to make the rooms more comfortable than the street: he thinks he can get a friend to lay it for him.
When he finishes college, Sam’s first job could be low-waged, part-time, a zero hours contract, or simply not pay enough to cover his rent. But he is lucky enough to be in social housing and thus still receive housing costs.
Others won’t be so lucky, as an increasing number of vulnerable and formerly homeless people have to move into private rented properties due to lack of any other accommodation being available. Any arrears could result in eviction, and they will end up right where they started: homeless, and with nowhere to go but another hostel.
It is said that the cost of increased homelessness to councils would wipe out virtually all of the planned £95 million saving to the benefit bill outlined when the policy was first suggested, and counteract any gains made by the new Homelessness Reduction Bill.