The new government must make sure young people leaving care do not have to pay council tax until they reach 21, according to youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.
A new report from the charity found that young people leaving care often face housing instability as a result of turbulent, chaotic transitions to adulthood and independence. Frequently, they must learn to live independently at a much earlier age than most other young people, and struggle to maintain their finances in the first few years. Missed bills soon mount into arrears, which can leave young people with unmanageable levels of debt.
This additional support in the first years of independent living could mean the difference between successfully maintaining a tenancy and being forced onto the street. 25% of people who have been homeless have been in care at some point in their lives.
Felicia, 19, a care leaver who took part in the research said: “I don’t know anything about council tax. I’ve just moved into my own flat last week. The fact that no one has explained it to me is a bit daunting. The word ‘arrears’ is coming to my mind already. It’s scary.
“When I was given a property, it was just like – there you go. No one ever told me about council tax. I think there’s a gap in life skills at school – you just aren’t taught it. Schools are relying on parents; they don’t consider the fact that it might not be taught at home. My social worker doesn’t talk to me about these things.
“I don’t know the price but let’s say, £50 a month? That’s quite a lot, especially when I’m only working part-time. I’m not earning that much yet. I just don’t know how I would manage.”
Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at Centrepoint said: “Young people leaving the care system are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and in many cases they are ‘going it alone’ from the day they turn 18. They cannot rely on support, financial or otherwise, from family members, and their access to secure housing is limited.
“Removing the duty to pay council tax in the first three years after care would enable young people to establish their independence and gain those crucial life skills that most of us learn over a longer period of time, without the burden of debt mounting up.”
Recognising the additional barriers faced by care leavers, a number of councils have already chosen to exempt young people leaving their care from council tax payments up to the age of 21, or 25 in some areas. Centrepoint is calling on the government to extend this exemption across all local authorities, ensuring that all young people leaving care are provided with this lifeline, regardless of where they live.
Download the Centrepoint - From Care To Where? report.