Image Source: Barnardo’s
Case Study – Cleo
Cleo* is an 18-year-old care leaver who survived an abusive relationship and was moved to emergency accommodation when her ex-partner located her new address. The closest thing she had to parental support was her support worker and a safeguarding officer from her local council. She had just finished college and forgot to change her welfare benefits from Income Support to Jobseeker’s Allowance, so all of her benefits were cancelled, including her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. Following this, she was late to a jobcentre appointment, so her benefits were sanctioned, leaving her in a new, unfurnished property with no income. Cleo had to reapply for all her benefits and in the meantime, she was unable to furnish her property, which she desperately needed carpet for as she moved in during winter and the flooring was concrete. The other issues faced by young Cleo were:
- A £200 water debt for her previous property, which she was fighting because she reported a leak which her previous housing association failed to fix
- Owed £30+ service charge on her previous property, but hadn’t paid the £4 per week repayments as her benefits had stopped. She had not received any support to reduce the repayments to the minimum amount to make them more affordable
- Using foodbank vouchers as a result of her difficulties
- Entitled to full Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support of £13 pw and £57.90 pw Jobseeker’s Allowance, but had nil income because of the sanction
- Needed support to get home essentials including a washing machine and carpet
As a result of these issues, the following issues arose:
- Diagnosed with depression and anxiety
- Rent arrears of £1445 and a possession order was taken out, putting her at risk of homelessness unless she could pay off the arrears in 2 months
- Council tax arrears, which her support worker had helped her to set up a repayment plan for
- Was signed off by her support worker, and placed with an unfamiliar Housing Options Officer (HOO)
With the support of an external financial inclusion officer and Cleo’s HOO, she was able to secure a Prevention Fund loan from her local credit union, which allowed her to clear her arrears in full and repay the loan at an affordable rate, which was now possible because she had entered full-time employment.
With a lot of joint working and adapting to Cleo’s needs, she was finally able to have a fresh start in her new home, supported by her new job. However, not all young people in her position are privy to such support, especially with staff cuts as a result of austerity measures.
Care leavers in particular don’t have any familial support. Once they turn 18, they are considered independent adults, even though many who have grown up with the mental, physical, emotional and financial support and guidance of a family, aren’t ready to move out until they are far beyond their teenage years. How perplexing is it then, that those who have missed out on such foundations are expected to go out into the world alone and prosper?
The Money House, was a Big Lottery funded project, which also ceased due to lack of funding. They delivered money management and financial confidence training to young people leaving the care and supported housing systems, because they regularly slip into unmanageable debt and face eviction. A Money House adviser asked attendees about their experience of living independently for the first time and her question was met with a few moments of silence. Then a young man mustered up the courage to speak about his overwhelming feelings of loneliness and responsibility. He also spoke about crying on his first night alone and sadly, there was a resounding echo of “me too” throughout the room. As care leavers, the figures show that they have substantial reason to feel overwhelmed or alarmed at being forced into independence before they’re ready:
- Around a quarter of those living on the street have a background in care
- Care leavers are four or five times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood
- A quarter of care leavers were pregnant or young parents within a year of leaving care
- In 2011 just 12.8 per cent of children who had been in care for a minimum of one year obtained five good grade GCSEs, including English and Maths. For other children the figure was 57.9 per cent
- The number of 19-year-olds who were looked after when aged 16 years and who are now NEET is 36 per cent, double the number of their non-care contemporaries
- Between 45-49 per cent of looked after children aged 5-17 years show signs of psychosocial adversity and psychiatric disorders, which is higher than the most disadvantaged children living in private households. Physical and mental problems increase at the time of leaving care
- About 23 per cent of the adult prison population have spent some time in care
[Source: Still Our Children: Briefing for House of Commons Report Stage of the Children and Families Bill, May 2013]
Barnet Council’s police and resources committee took steps to soften the blow by holding a consultation in May 2018 regarding the potenetial offering of council tax relief to care leavers up to the age of 25 for their first two years of independent living. Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius said “there are currently more than 200 care leavers in Barnet…When care leavers move to living independently, it is often their first experience of having to manage a budget on their own. Financial pressures stemming from council tax and daily living costs can adversely affect the mental health and employment prospects for our care leavers.” Could more of these initiatives be formed through effective coalitions amongst schools, local authorities, housing providers, third sector organisations, employers and prisons? Cleo’s story shows that the challenges faced by care leavers are multi-faceted, so holistic support through joint working amongst different agencies and sectors will be a leap in the right direction.
*Name changed for security purposes