Government U-turns on “unworkable” young persons housing benefit

Work and pensions Esther McVey announced that 18-21-year-olds will no longer be blocked from claiming support

The government has reversed housing benefit policy plans to stop 18-21-year-olds from being unable to claim support.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey quietly scrapped the plans introduced by George Osborne in 2013, allowing all people in the age bracket to apply for support through Universal Credit (UC) instead of meeting any criteria.

The move comes after criticism from housing organisations and homelessness charities after government statistics revealed that just 90 out of 2,090 claimants benefitted from the policy with the majority being excluded. This figure fell way short of the 1,000 people that the government promised would be affected in the policy’s first year – with total savings of £105million by 2020.

It was obvious from the first time the policy was floated in 2013 that at best it would be unworkable, and at worst it would actually increase homelessness and reduce the willingness of landlord to rent to all young people

Now, the floodgates have been opened for all claimants, which McVey claims will boost their chances to “earn and learn”.

“This government is committed to providing young people with the support they need to get started with their working lives,” said Tatton MP McVey.

“We do this through providing financial support when it is needed, and support to either ‘earn or learn’ – delivered through the simplified Universal Credit benefits system. In line with this aim, I am today announcing that the government will amend regulations so that all 18-21 year olds will be entitled to claim support for housing costs in UC.

“This decision ensures that there are no unintended barriers to young people accessing housing on the basis of their age alone and getting into work, and is in line with the government’s launch of the Homelessness Reduction Act and our commitment to eradicating rough sleeping by 2027.”

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Homelessness charities and housing organisations widely praised the U-turn, with Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin OBE slamming the original policy as “unworkable at best”.

“The Secretary of State’s decision to reinstate the automatic eligibility of 18 to 21 year olds to claim UC for their housing costs is recognition of a policy that risked leaving very vulnerable young people with nowhere to live,” he said.

“It was obvious from the first time the policy was floated in 2013 that at best it would be unworkable, and at worst it would actually increase homelessness and reduce the willingness of landlord to rent to all young people.

“Whilst the system of exemptions which Centrepoint and others fought for have smoothed the rougher edges of the policy, today’s welcome announcement will put the minds of young people and their prospective landlords at ease.”

National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr added: “Housing associations have told us that as a result they have seen more young, vulnerable people sleeping rough, or forced to depend on unscrupulous private landlords and dangerous accommodation. This was a policy that made no sense and today’s decision is a positive sign they are listening on welfare reform.”