Large numbers of young people leaving care are having their benefits stopped, pushing many into debt and destitution, new research reveals.
The Children’s Society’s report, The Cost of Being Care-Free, found that 4,000 benefit sanctions have been applied to care leavers in the last two years, making them at least three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than the general population. This is leaving them in a desperate situation with no money and unable to afford the basics, including food.
In addition, over 4,000 young people who left care missed out on crucial financial education, as almost half of the local authorities in England are failing to offer care leavers financial education and debt advice.
As a result, many care leavers do not know how to pay bills, manage their money and can neither open a bank account nor plan financially for the long-term. This is leaving these vulnerable young people unprepared for the realities of adult life and puts them at risk of falling into debt and becoming homeless.
Care leavers are eligible for a range of benefits, including Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit. But if care leavers fail to meet benefit regulations, such as being late for a meeting at the job centre or not updating their CV, they can be sanctioned and have vital benefits stopped.
Many care leavers don’t know that they can challenge these sanctions and as a result they are much less likely than other groups to appeal a decision. But The Children’s Society found that out of the few who did, over 60% of the decisions were overturned, more than for any other group, showing they were wrongly applied in the first place.
The Government has committed to doing more to support young people leaving care. It must make sure that they get the help and support they need in order to claim what they are entitled to, and challenge poor decisions made against them.
All children in care must also get financial education throughout their childhood, including as they prepare to leave care so they learn how to manage their money. The Government needs to take such additional steps as exempting care leavers from paying council tax until they turn 25, to make sure they do not fall into debt.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society said: “It is unacceptable that children leaving care are being failed by the very people who should be helping them. We see from our work the damaging effect this has as care leavers are going without food and other basic necessities because their benefits have been stopped. This must change. These young people lack the safety net provided by family that most children get as they become adults.
“It is the local authority’s responsibility to act as a responsible parent and make sure these children know how to manage their money and are able to live independently as adults. Government at every level needs to do more to make sure these young people do not fall into problem debt.”
This is an official an unedited press release from the Children’s Society.