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Benefit Cuts: A Universal Discredit

This month brings another round of benefit cuts, another tax year – a new challenge for so many people. Each year that we have seen recently the situation becomes harsher. One of the many worries is the cuts to young people’s housing payments.

Housing payments for young people

Assistance for housing payments has usually been given by the local authority through a claim for housing benefit. The current system to assist people to pay their rent is available to all those who are over 18 (and sometimes younger) and have a liability to pay rent, as well as a low income or who are receiving other benefits such as Income Support or Jobseekers allowance. Under the new Universal Credits system, a claim for welfare assistance combines all of the potential benefits that people receive into one monthly payment, containing different elements, depending on the applicant’s circumstances.

The new regulation means that most people below the age of 22 will not receive the portion of the benefit that is included to help with housing costs if they receive the new Universal credits. This will mean that while a 21 year old in one borough may be able to get help to pay their rent, if they cross the border to a universal credit area, these payments will not be awarded.

With noticeable levels of increased youth street homelessness and re-offending it is considered that this proposal would be negligent in protecting those youths who are most vulnerable, the low paid, unemployed or those without reliable family support.

Research by the Residential Landlords Association has highlighted that 76% of Landlords fear that these cuts will leave under 21s unable to afford to pay their rent and leave young people unable to obtain accommodation.

From consideration of The Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 it states that there will be exceptions to these cuts, however the current plan excludes assistance to those 18-21 year old who are without work, including the pregnant, children leaving foster care and more. The exceptions to the rules, namely those who cannot live with their parents, may receive the help at the local authority’s discretion.

Fighting for your entitlement

Here at HJA and in so much of the legal sector we recognise that this will not mean that assistance will go to those who need the help, only those who can prove it and have the tenacity to fight for their entitlement.

At the same time, housing costs are being cut to those who are in supported housing, a fundamental resource to the young people who may not have the emotional and financial support of a stable family. Many young people rely on low paid or unstable jobs, and are reliant on housing benefit to enable them to pay rent where employers do not fill the gaps.

The impact of housing payment changes

The changes to the system make independence unsustainable and will reduce the number of people who can move to find work where it is available. Mobility of the workforce should be a key factor for young people to help them fulfil their value, rather than forcing those in more deprived areas to remain where they are and dependant on family support.

The government initially proposed that an estimated £3.3 million will be saved in the process of cutting the housing cost element of universal credit. However in making this saving, it is calculated that this will equate to a mere additional 140 homeless youths making a claim before this saving is used, which is a realistic prospect.

Furthermore, how can a young person who is not eligible for help with their rent be seen as anything other than a priority for local authorities? A local authority making a decision to refuse homeless assistance very often relies on the fact that the unemployed or low paid can receive assistance from housing benefit. If this support network disappears, there is surely an argument that those who become destitute as result of these cuts must be found to be a priority for rehousing and awarded a housing duty.

It has been advised, although not in detail, that those youths in need of the housing costs element will not be left without it, but it is apparent that these unnecessary cuts have not been thought through and the ramifications of such a change will be for the worse.