Housing costs for 18 to 21 year olds

Issue 258 (June 2017)

Gwyneth King considers changes removing entitlement to universal credit (UC) housing costs for some 18–21-year-olds.

The government announced in the July 2015 Budget that it would remove entitlement to the housing costs element of UC from some 18– 21-year-olds. Regulations have introduced this change from 1 April.

Regulations

The Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 20171 came into force on 1 April 2017, meaning the default position for this group of young people is that if they are making a new claim on or after that date, they can’t get help with their rent in UC. Those getting such help in their UC or in housing benefit (HB) immediately before 1 April can continue to get it while the housing costs element continues to be awarded.2

It should be noted, however, that while it is often referred to in the media as a change to HB, this restriction actually only applies to new claims for UC, made on or after 1 April 2017, in full service areas, by single claimants, who are unemployed; indeed, the government has gone so far as to confirm that the change will not apply to HB.3

Exceptions

The Universal Credit Regulations 20134 have been amended by the above regulations to provide for the restriction and a number of exceptions. Exceptions apply where the claimant:

  • is living in temporary accommodation provided by a local authority or social landlord under homelessness legislation; or
  • has no parents, or neither parent has accommodation in Great Britain; or
  • has experienced, or been threatened with, domestic violence by a family member or partner; or
  • was looked after by a local authority before s/he was 18; or
  • where it is inappropriate for her/him to live with her/his parents because there would be a risk to her/his physical or mental health, or s/he would be likely to experience significant harm, if s/he was to continue to live with her/his parents (see below for more detail).

Exceptions also apply if s/he has childcare or other care commitments or an impairment, specifically where s/he:

  • is responsible for a child or qualifying young person; or
  • has ‘expected hours’ of work of fewer than 35 per week, due to care commitments or physical or mental impairment.

Exceptions also apply where:

  • the one-bedroom shared accommodation rate does notapply because the claimanreceives the middle or highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance, or the daily living component of personal independence payment, s/he was looked after by a local authority before s/he was 18 or s/he is an offender subject to specific multi-agency risk management arrangements;
  • the claimant does not have work search requirements because s/he is temporarily unfit for work, or because of a bereavement or specified temporary circumstances – eg, on drug or alcohol addiction treatment for less than six months; or
  • the claimant has sufficient earned income (this is earned income of at least 16 times the minimum wage for a person aged 21 or over but aged under 25, or income at that level in each of the six months before the claim for UC).

Inappropriate for a claimant to continue to live with parents

New guidance5 adds further examples of circumstances in which it may be deemed inappropriate for people to continue to live with their parents. The DWP may exercise its discretion to pay the UC housing costs element where:

  • the claimant’s parents have been, or are in the process of being, evicted
  • her/his parents are in prison, or are prevented from entering the country;
  • the remoteness of the parent’s home presents a serious barrier to finding work;
  • the parental home would be overcrowded as a result of her/his living there;
  • the claimant has entered the UK as an asylum seeker, refugee or as part of a government resettlement scheme, and has not been housed with her/his parents upon being granted this status;
  • there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship with the parents;
  • the claimant is estranged from her/his parents as a result of her/his religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race or ethnicity;
  • their parents have moved and made it clear the young person is not welcome to move with them;
  • s/he has been asked to leave the family home;
  • the claimant is pregnant and unable to live with her parents;
  • s/he is a former gang member, or is attempting to reduce her/his involvement in a gang, or is at risk of gang threats or violence in the area where the family lives;
  • s/he is a rough sleeper or ‘sofa surfer’;
  • the parent that s/he was resident with has died, and s/he is estranged from her/his other parent; or
  • s/he needs to live independently as part of an agreed plan with relevant support agencies.

Concerns and comment

The rationale for the change was seemingly that it remains the responsibility of the parents of people in this age group to continue to accommodate them, if they cannot afford to pay rent for their own accommodation. It would seem that the exceptions are the sole mechanism for dealing with these concerns. It remains to be seen to what extent that will succeed.

Significant concerns raised during the consultation process included the following:

  • Homeless Link (a network of organisations working directly with homeless people) reported that numerous people aged between 18 and 21 become homeless because their relationship with their parents or care givers has broken down, or because they are unable or unwilling to accommodate them.6
  • The Local Government Select Committee noted it had already reported an increase in homelessness as a result of welfare reform, and voiced disquiet about this increasing it further.7
  • Research undertaken by Heriot-Watt University and campaign group End Youth Homelessness demonstrated that the inevitable resulting increase in youth homelessness would virtually wipe out any savings to the taxpayer, due to increased use of public services when people become homeless, and logical secondary impacts, such as increased costs to the criminal justice system.8
  • An Oxford University study found that the prevalence of mental health problems such as depression increases in those affected by housing support being capped with reference to local housing allowance rates, and concluded that removing the housing costs element of UC from 18 to 21-year- olds would increase the risk of these young people’s mental health being impacted.9
  • The Social Security Advisory Committee found there had been insufficient consultation with experts dealing with health issues affecting people in this age group, especially mental health issues; it also raised a concern about this placing further pressure on work coaches, as they would be involved in deciding whether one of the exceptions should apply, and may lack the capacity to properly make such a call.10

Scotland

Having unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the pre-election UK government to scrap what it called this ‘shameful’ policy because of concerns about its increasing homelessness among young people, the Scottish government has committed to mitigating the effects on an interim basis by extending the Scottish Welfare Fund to the young people affected by way of community care grants.11

 


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