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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'There is a need for a new youth housing offer'


We caught up with Anna Whalen of Birmingham-based St Basils, to talk hidden homelessness among young people and why the odds are stacked against under 25 year olds when it comes to finding somewhere to live.

Image of a dark streetAgainst a backdrop of continuously rising homelessness, levels of youth homelessness have remained steady in recent years. What do you think are the reasons for this contrast?

It’s probably fair to say that youth homelessness over the last five years has, until recently, stayed fairly steady.

That's not just looking at statutory homelessness – those figures tell us little about what is actually happening. By combining the local intelligence we pick up in our work with local authorities (we worked with over 50 per cent of local authorities in 2015/16) with a mixture of national and local surveys and research, we have a fairly good sense of what the issues and pressures are.

Perhaps it’s been easier to keep youth homelessness steady in the last few years - while the ending of tenancies in the private rented sector is now by far the main cause of homelessness for families in many authorities, for single young people parental eviction remains the major cause. Tensions and pressures in families, often amplified by relentless poverty, are behind much of this.

For those that can’t stay at home or in care but need supported housing, budget reductions mean in most areas there are fewer beds and often less support hours. 

Local authorities have said that our Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) funded work we deliver to roll out the Positive Pathway is helpful. And now there’s a new ‘sister’ version for care leavers, which Barnardos and St Basils developed and launched last year.

These are both tools which help authorities and their partners to come together to review, plan and take action together.

All that said, the variation between local areas is significant and many areas are yet to develop a coherent set of offers to young people at risk of homelessness.

With further welfare reforms on the way, how do you think this will impact on youth homelessness levels?

Local authorities all over England have worked hard together with housing associations and third sector agencies - in many cases over a number of years - to prevent youth homelessness. 

But things are beginning to head in the wrong direction. Rough sleeping among under 25s is increasing in London and while that in itself is very concerning, it also tells us a lot about what’s going wrong in the system. Hidden homelessness lies just behind the visible rough sleeping, a problem which was exposed in a recent piece of work by Depaul UK.

Housing supply and affordability are difficult in every area and young people are generally the hardest hit in housing terms - the least experienced, the lowest waged and often perceived as unreliable tenants.

It’s not just universal credit which is lowering landlord confidence, or the freezing of benefit levels, or young people getting less money than other groups. There are two policy changes which combined will mean housing options for under 25s on low incomes are about to get even tighter.

The government’s policy to end automatic entitlement to housing costs for 18-21 year olds is due in 2017. Employment and training will be critical for most young people who can’t stay in the family home but need to claim housing costs. The odds are stacked – they are already four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts and five times more likely to be on zero hours contracts. Steady employment is a tall order in many areas of the country.

So it’s reasonable to assume that many landlords’ confidence in under 25s as tenants will diminish further and, whatever the policy detail, it’s hard to imagine that this change won’t result in more youth homelessness.

But if all of that wasn't challenging enough, from 2018 social rents will be capped at the local housing allowance level, including the shared accommodation rate (SAR). But rents at the SAR simply do not stack on one bedroom social properties.

The slow colliding of these two new policies in an already unforgiving housing market for singles on low incomes can only mean one thing - a further increase in youth homelessness.

So, looking ahead, what do think are the main challenges young people face when trying to find and/or keep a home?

For those who cannot stay at home and have no family to support them, getting and keeping the confidence of a landlord is likely to be increasingly difficult. Sustaining accommodation through your earned income will provide challenges if housing benefits are not available. 

Young people and families with older teenagers need access to information about what’s available locally; affordability and quality of offer are real challenges, as our recent report on affordability in Birmingham highlights.

We think there is a need for a new youth housing offer which underpins engagement with education, training or work for those for whom the market doesn’t work.

Creating viable options and providing focused support locally requires concerted partnership working - starting with taking a stand together for young vulnerable people. It's a challenge that more than ever social landlords can play a part in.

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