Charities have expressed concerns homelessness could rise further, after the UK Government laid out legislation that will restrict housing benefit for young people.
The new legislation removes automatic entitlement to housing support for young people claiming Universal Credit between 18 to 21 years old, in a move charities warn risks tearing away a vital safety net.
The changes, first proposed in the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto, come into force from 1 April 2017 and will affect all new claims for Universal Credit.
Formal plans were quietly slipped on Friday by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and will see around 11,000 young people lose automatic entitlement to housing support under Universal Credit, saving the government an estimated £105 million by 2020.
A number of groups will be exempt from the changes including care leavers, domestic abuse victims, and those who have been in work for the previous six months, but charities working with young people say the cuts contradict Theresa May’s promise to build a country that “works for everyone”. Adding homelessness rates could also increase.
Responding to the new legislation, Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of the National Council of YMCAs, urged the government to abandon the plans until flaws in the policy are addressed.
She said: “By removing automatic entitlement to housing support, the Government is in real danger of taking away a vital safety net from some of the country’s most vulnerable young people.
“While the Government has listened to the advice from YMCA and the sector by putting in place a number of exemptions to protect vulnerable groups it is hard to get away from the fact that, in practice, this policy is completely unworkable.
“This policy creates a ‘catch 22’ situation for the very people it intends to protect. In its current state, landlords will be unwilling to give a tenancy to this age group because they cannot provide proof they will be able access housing support while, at the same, young people will be unable to claim housing support until they have a tenancy.
“Given the fundamental flaw at the heart of this policy, YMCA is calling on the Government to abandon plans to introduce the new arrangements, at least until this problem can be addressed.”
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, warned the “destructive policy” could undermine government attempts to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping.
“The Government has made positive steps towards preventing homelessness in recent months, including pledging its full support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill”, he said.
“But these new benefits rules risk undermining the potential of the bill to tackle homelessness for young people.
“We’re committed to working with the Government to deliver on its homelessness prevention agenda, but today’s announcement runs entirely counter to those aims and could have disastrous consequences.
“For many young people, the support they receive through the benefits system to pay their rent is the safety net that stops them from becoming homeless.
“Even at this eleventh hour, we urge the Government not to continue with this destructive policy.”
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing John Healey warned the cuts “will leave thousands of young people with nowhere to go”.
“Many could end up on the streets”, he said.
He added: “These young people are old enough to fight for their country, but in Theresa May’s Britain not old enough to get the same help with housing costs as everyone else.
“Ministers would do well to remember that the shameful doubling of rough sleeping since 2010 is a direct result of decisions they have made. With this decision they will make the scandal of rising homelessness worse still.”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron described the cuts as “an utter disgrace”, adding: “Many of our most vulnerable young people rely on housing benefit for a roof over their head, especially if they have no family to turn to.
“This is a shameful decision by a heartless Conservative Government.”
But a DWP spokesman defended the changes: “We want to make sure that 18- to 21-year-olds do not slip straight into a life on benefits, which is why we are helping young people get the training, skills and experience they need to move into a job and build a career.
“This government is delivering on its commitment to ensure young people in the benefit system face the same choices as young people who work but may not be able to afford to leave home.
“We know that personal circumstances will differ so we have worked closely with charities and the housing sector to develop a fair and robust set of exemptions to protect the most vulnerable young people.”