Homeless care leavers

We are calling for a stronger safety net to protect young care leavers from homelessness.

We've published a new report ‘Hitting brick walls: barriers faced by homeless care leavers’, in collaboration with New Horizon Youth Centre and Youth Legal which calls for stronger safeguards to protect young care leavers from homelessness. The report includes crucial insight from care leavers who have become homeless, and tangible solutions the Government could deploy to help change the lives of young people in similar situations.

Even before the pandemic, one third of care leavers became homeless in the first two years immediately after leaving care and our report shows that Covid 19 has further exacerbated rough sleeping and homelessness among this group. In the last two years, New Horizon (who provide housing support to under 25s in London) have seen an increase in care-experienced clients, from 24% in 2017-18 to 31% in 2020-21. Similarly, in Homeless Link’s survey in 2021, services reported the highest increase in care leavers rough sleeping compared to other cohorts (53%).

There are three key areas where the Government could make simple changes to help care leavers start their adult lives on the right track in line with other provisions they provide for care leavers up to 25:

1. Extending priority need up to 25 for homeless care leavers

Care leavers aged 18-20 automatically have ‘priority need’ (an assessment of vulnerability) until they turn 21 and have to prove their vulnerability. Although the vast majority of homeless care leavers aged 21 and over will meet the vulnerability test, local authorities often ask for specific expert evidence of this vulnerability.

This can be especially hard for a care leaver to gather without help from a housing professional or lawyer, while also likely negotiating with friends to sleep on their sofas or sleeping in the streets. To prove their vulnerability, older care leavers can often be forced to pay their GP for a letter laying out their health issues, take part in invasive psychiatric assessments, or recount their past traumas multiple times to statutory services.

Extending priority need to homeless care leavers over 21 would remove this unnecessary barrier and prevent them ending up homeless and without the entitlements and longer-term, stable accommodation they would be owed under homeless legislation.

2. Abolish intentionality for homeless care leavers

Care leavers can also be found to be ‘intentionally homeless’ if they have left accommodation that the local authority deemed suitable, even if they felt unsafe in the accommodation or fell behind on their rent and got evicted. Without the same support networks, rent arrears can often build up. Someone deemed intentionally homeless will not be supported into long-term accommodation.

Although guidance states that housing services should avoid intentionality decisions for care leavers aged 18-25, there is no clear duty on local authorities to do this and we see intentionality used as a way of gatekeeping care leavers. 

Removing the possibility for care leavers to be made intentionally homeless will ensure they get the protections and entitlements that should be afforded to them as care leavers who are homeless and crucially the longer-term accommodation that will enable them to have a secure future.

3.  Ensure priority access to social housing for care leavers

Young people who were placed out-of-area when they were looked after children are often unable to access social housing in this same area where they have continued to live as an adult. Once children turn 18, they are not automatically eligible for leaving care support in their local authority of residence, even if they have lived there for several years and have their support networks in that area. In some cases, this means that they do not have priority for social housing even though ‘local’ care leavers would.

The Government should amend legislation to ensure all care leavers have the highest priority for social housing in all local authorities, especially where they were placed out-of-area as a child.

Read our report to find out more about how to remove the barriers faced by homeless care leavers and our work on the Independent Care Review.