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Accommodation options and costs for young people and care leavers

This content applies to England

Accommodation options for young people including hostels, night shelters, lodging schemes, private renting and social housing. Options available to help young people pay for and access accommodation.

Housing issues for young people

It can be particularly difficult for young people to find accommodation. Many private landlords are reluctant to let to younger people, especially if they are claiming welfare benefits. Young people typically have low incomes and a lack of resources, which can make it very difficult to access and pay for private rented accommodation. There are also specific legal issues concerning the granting of tenancies to young people under the age of 18 (see the page on Tenancies for minors). In some areas, there are specialist agencies that can help young people find accommodation.

Joint housing protocols for care leavers

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education have produced Joint housing protocols for care leavers: good practice advice to support the development of joint protocols that can help local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of care leavers. A joint housing protocol should help children’s services and housing authorities deliver the local accommodation offered to care leavers and prevent homelessness. It should set out commitments as corporate parents, and how these will be delivered in practice.

Social housing

A young person can apply to any local council for a council home. Councils are no longer required to keep a housing register,[1] but in practice most still do so. It is not lawful for councils to have blanket policies, such as one that would exclude all young people aged 16 or 17, or all people not resident in the area, from an allocations scheme. Statute defines who is not a qualifying person for an allocation.[2]

Young people can also apply for housing through a local registered social landlord. Although most housing associations and other registered social landlords will require nominations from the council's list, many will accept direct approaches.

Private rented sector

The private rented sector often provides young people with their first step to independent housing. Private renting can offer easily accessible accommodation, although financial barriers can make it difficult to find and keep this sort of housing, particularly for young people who claim benefits.

See Paying for accommodation below for more information. Conditions can also be less than ideal, especially in houses in multiple occupation. For information about how safety issues, overcrowding and poor management in houses in multiple occupations (HMO) can be challenged, see HMOs.

Supported housing

There are different types of specialist supported accommodation for young people. They generally provide accommodation for those who require a certain level of support to help them make the transition to independent living, although there are also schemes for young people with specific support needs. There are cluster schemes, which comprise a number of self-contained flats with a support worker available, and group houses where residents have their own bedrooms and share other facilities. Such schemes are often run by housing associations. Foyers and some hostels are a form of supported housing. The provision of schemes varies from one area to another.

Foyers

Foyers provide accommodation linked to training and employment and usually have an age limit of 25. They require residents to sign an agreement covering all aspects of their residence, including a commitment to remain involved in training and/or employment during the length of their stay. They offer professional and peer group support for residents. The length of stay is normally up to two years. Foyers are not suitable for young people with multiple or high support needs.

Most Foyers require a referral, usually from the local housing authority. The Foyer Federation itself does not own any housing and cannot provide accommodation or make a referral. Young people and their advisers should contact their local Foyer or local housing authority and enquire about the correct referral process to follow in each case.

Hostels

Hostels are usually run by social landlords or charities and can often offer accommodation at short notice.

There are a number of direct-access and emergency hostels specifically for young people. There are hostels that offer accommodation to young people who need support around independent-living skills. There are also hostels that are specifically for young people who are leaving care, most of which will require social services referrals. Many mixed-age hostels will not take young people under the age of 18. See Emergency accommodation for information on different types of hostels and for sources of information about hostels in different parts of the country.

Lodging schemes

Lodging schemes operate a register of people willing to rent out a room in their home. Local authorities or voluntary agencies may manage schemes. It is usually difficult for ex-offenders, people with drug or alcohol problems, or people with mental health problems to get accommodation through a lodging scheme. Many schemes also find it difficult to place young people aged 16 and 17. Low-level support may be provided on some schemes.

Nightstop

Nightstop schemes provide accommodation in the homes of volunteer hosts for young people aged 16 to 25 for up to three nights. This emergency provision may give the referring agency the opportunity to find suitable long-term accommodation, or can provide time and space to enable families to resolve their difficulties if that is the reason the young person left home.

Generally, nightstops cannot provide for people with serious psychiatric problems, those who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when referred, or those who have a serious criminal record or a recent history of violence, arson or sexual offences. Also, due to the nature of the provision, nightstops are unable to provide accommodation for young people on bail.

Nightstop UK can advise groups on starting and operating a local nightstop scheme and can also provide information on existing schemes. There are over 30 nightstop schemes in the UK.

Paying for accommodation – housing benefit and universal credit

Housing benefit is a means-tested benefit paid to help meet the cost of renting accommodation.

Universal credit is a means-tested benefit that is in the process of replacing a number of pre-existing benefits, including housing benefit. It includes a housing costs element to help pay the rent (or mortgage interest payments).

Age restrictions

There is no age limit for claiming housing benefit.

Normally, a claimant must be aged 18 or over to claim universal credit – there are limited exceptions.[1]

There are significant restrictions for young people claiming either benefit on the amount they can get to help pay the rent.

For most claimants renting from a private landlord, who are single and under the age of 35 , the maximum amount of housing benefit or the housing costs element of universal credit payable is restricted to the:

Young people affected by restrictions can apply for a discretionary housing payment from the local authority to help meet a shortfall from their rent. There is no legal entitlement to this payment. For more information see Discretionary housing payments.

Care leavers and young people in care

Young people under 18 years old who have left care and are 'relevant children' under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 normally cannot claim housing benefit or universal credit.  Social services has a duty to pay for and/or provide them with accommodation.

Young people who have been accommodated under section 20 are exempt from the single room rent or shared accommodation rate restrictions until they reach the age of 22.

Students

Most full-time students cannot claim housing benefit or the housing costs element of universal credit. There are exceptions, which are not exactly the same for both benefits but both include students who:

  • has a dependent child
  • is a foster parent.

For more information see:

Help with rent in advance

The discretionary Social Fund was abolished in 2013, and community care grants and crisis loans were replaced by a system of locally administered assistance. However, budgeting loans and budgeting advances are available.

Locally administered assistance

Under the system of locally administered assistance, each local authority devises its own scheme for helping meet hardship that cannot be met from regular income. Applications for assistance is made to the local authority. There is no statutory requirement on a local authority to provide a scheme for locally administered assistance.

Information on local welfare assistance schemes can be found using the Child Poverty Action Group online postcode search tool.

Budgeting loans/advances

A budgeting loan or budgeting advance (for claimants on universal credit) is an interest-free loan to help claimants spread the cost of items that they cannot afford on their current income.[2] A claimant must have been on specified benefits for at least 26 weeks. Loans and advances are repaid by deductions from the claimant's benefit. They could be awarded for:

  • rent in advance
  • removal expenses for fresh accommodation
  • furniture and household equipment.

Claimants should contact their local Jobcentre Plus to apply. Applications for a budgeting loan is made on claim form SF500.

Children Act payments

Social services has duties and powers under the Children Act 1989 to help children in need and care leavers to pay for accommodation.

16- or 17-year-olds

Payment can be made under section 17 of the Children Act to help a child in need (see the page Social services duties to children in need) to secure accommodation in the private sector by paying a deposit and rent in advance, or to enable her/him to meet any rent shortfall after housing benefit.

Care leavers

Social services has duties and powers to provide financial support to care leavers up to the age of 21. This can continue until the young person is 25 if they are pursuing education or training. For information see Leaving care provisions.

Rent deposit/guarantee schemes

A significant problem faced by young people trying to secure accommodation in the private rented sector is the difficulty in raising a deposit, however there are rent deposit/guarantee schemes in some areas.

These schemes operate according to different models. Some will pay a deposit in cash to the landlord. Others may provide a 'bond' to the landlord, which means that the scheme will then recompense the landlord, up to an agreed limit, in the event of the landlord suffering loss due to property damage or non-payment of rent. When a local authority is involved, the scheme may ensure that housing benefit claims are fast tracked. Some schemes will have a list of approved landlords who can offer accommodation. In other areas, young people have to find a landlord themselves. Schemes will have different eligibility criteria, for example some will have age restrictions and others may only accept people who are on benefits or low income.

For more information see Help with paying a deposit.

A local authority can award a discretionary housing payment for a rent deposit (or rent in advance) for a property that the claimant has not yet moved into but only if s/he is already entitled to housing benefit or the housing costs element of universal credit for their present home.[3] For more information see Discretionary housing payments.

Wales

The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] reg 8 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[2] Budgeting Loan Guide, DWP, May 2013; regs 11-18 Social Security (Payments on Account of Benefit) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/383.

[3] paras 2.3-2.15, Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

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