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Alice Ashworth @ashworthalice Senior Policy Officer

Want to prevent youth homelessness? Don’t pull the rug out from people’s feet

Measures laid before parliament today put thousands of young people at increased risk of homelessness. In this blog I outline why we’re so disappointed that the Government has chosen to press ahead with this damaging policy.

The new rules – which prevent most 18 to 21 year olds from claiming financial support through Universal Credit – have been trailed for some time. In fact, you’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu about these proposals. I’ve been blogging about this since 2015. And way back in 2012 we successfully fought off similar proposals put forward by the Coalition Government.

We’ve consistently argued that removing this vital safety net could have disastrous consequences. For many young people, the support they receive through the benefits system to pay their rent is all that stands between them and homelessness.

Ever since this proposal was formally announced in 2015’s Summer Budget, we’ve been talking to Government about how to best protect vulnerable young people. To their credit, the Department for Work and Pensions – the Government department leading on this – has been keen to honour its commitment to protect those who can’t live in the family home.

But the constraints of delivering this within Universal Credit have made it nigh on impossible to find a workable solution. Universal Credit is designed to simplify the benefits system. But to adequately protect the most vulnerable requires adding a layer of complexity that the system’s not designed for. It’s become clear that Universal Credit can’t accommodate this change without putting some young people at risk of falling through the net.

So we’re disappointed to see the measures published today. Not least because they include no clear exemptions for young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – protections that we consistently called for.

We understand ministers feel duty bound to honour their manifesto commitment. But they’ve had a change of heart on other manifesto commitments inherited by Theresa May’s government.

What’s more, things have moved on since the manifesto was published. The Government has committed to an ambitious homelessness prevention agenda. Crucially, they’ve lent their full backing to the Homelessness Reduction Bill. The Bill – now making its way through the House of Lords – places new duties on English councils to prevent and tackle homelessness. It is the most significant development in homelessness legislation in England in forty years.

These new benefit rules risk undermining that agenda before the Homelessness Reduction Bill has even made it onto the statute book. They will make it almost impossible for councils to deliver on these new duties when 18 to 21 year olds walk through their doors asking for help. Even if young people jump through the right hoops to qualify for support under the new rules, councils may still struggle to find landlords willing to house this age group.

We’re committed to working with the Government to deliver on its homelessness prevention agenda. But we are clear that these new benefit rules run entirely counter to those aims. It’s high time government departments started rallying around a shared goal of preventing and tackling homelessness, rather than undermining their own good intentions.