The Post-18 Cliff Edge
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What Happens Post-18?
We are an organisation committed to transforming the lives of vulnerable people. In 1999 we began working to house unaccompanied asylum seekers, in Blackpool, and since then we’ve supported more than 20,000 individuals.
More than 20 years later our services include solo/solo-enhanced living, group living and trainer flats. In 2022, we’re also set to open the door to our first children’s home, adding children’s residential care to our offering. Our primary long-term goal is to help vulnerable young people by creating a foundation of improved wellbeing, valuable life skills, and a level of independence that they can continue to build on in later life.
We achieve these goals with our dedicated team of support workers, who each work hard using a person-centred approach to understand the support required. Once this is established, we provide suitable accommodation and work alongside the young people we support using the Award Scheme Development Accreditation Network (ASDAN) to help them develop key life skills.
Are People Independent at 18?
We work with a variety of young people from 16-18 years old, from a range of different backgrounds. Traditionally, the funding provided by Local Authorities to organisations like us, to support these young people, reflects the idea that once a young person reaches 18 years old, they become fully independent and no longer need support. However, according, to the ONS the average age for a young person to move out of their family home is 23, demonstrating that for many young people 18 is far too soon to be living independently.
In addition to ongoing assessments that take place while a young person is with us, six weeks prior to a young person turning 18 we organise an official move-on meeting to assess their capability and tenancy readiness. In these meetings, we determine the individual as tenancy ready and able to live independently, almost tenancy ready and able to build skills to live independently with additional support, or not tenancy ready, as they have not demonstrated they can live independently.
Following these meetings, we put a plan together and present our recommendations to the relevant Local Authority. The Local Authority then confirms whether they’re able to provide additional funding we need to get a young person tenancy ready. This funding is often the difference between remaining with us for a short period and then moving on to independence, or moving into Local Authority-sourced accommodation, which can be detrimental. This accommodation can range from emergency temporary accommodation, to moving in with estranged family to, in the best case, social housing.
While the Local Authority is finding accommodation, a process which can take up to 12 months, we continue to support our young people and invest in their development while navigating Universal Credit and taking full responsibility and liability for them.
The 18+ Cliff Edge
In most cases, Local Authorities are unable to provide the additional short-term funding and young people who are categorised as not tenancy ready are pushed to what we refer to as ‘the 18+ cliff edge’. This means that they are pushed into independence or moved to services that do not offer the same level of support that they received before turning 18. In these cases, evidence has shown that young people may experience a resurfacing of past trauma and revert to old behaviours. This change in services undoes the hard work of both the young person and their support workers and can lead to the young person moving into unsustainable accommodation or in the worst cases, sofa surfing and homelessness.
We know not everyone is independent at 18. That’s why we want to continue to work with Local Authorities and young people who are not tenancy ready, and help them achieve their tenancy or identify, and move them on to the right placement in a settled transition.
This continuation of support helps vulnerable young people continue to develop and build life skills. It also has a long-term positive impact on young people, improving their mental health, social relationships and general wellbeing, all of which help them towards moving on.
Lack of funding
We are currently continuing to support 126 post-18 individuals who were identified as being almost tenancy ready, but were unable to live independently without additional support. Despite our assessment, Local Authorities have been unable to provide the necessary funding to help them achieve independence.
Because transforming the lives of young people is our top priority, we decided to self-fund the additional support and accommodation necessary for these individuals by employing three full-time staff (112.5 hours per week) to deliver targeted post-tenancy and re-settlement support. By striving to exceed expectations and going beyond the placement plan, we have been able to sustain placements for an average of 12 months, providing young people with on average two hours a week of support.
Once our young people turn 18, in addition to the funding we provide, we rely on Universal Credit. This presents many complexities and challenges. In our experience, there are recurrent issues, such as payment being sent to the claimant, despite correct documentation being provided. These payment errors repeatedly occur and can lead to large and accumulating rental arrears. This damages the relationship between the landlord and tenant, causing unnecessary stress to the young person. It also makes it more challenging for us and similar organisations to find landlords and homeowners to work with in the future. Without these valuable landlord relationships, our young people may be left without a home.
These issues cause organisations, like ours, to lose money, in turn making it more difficult to provide support to our young people. We spent approximately £1 million over three years supporting young poeple post 18. If not for our continued payment of rent and support costs, that were not funded by the Local Authorities, then these young people would be left unsupported and at risk of homelessness.
The Long-Term Solution
We are working hard to continue to support vulnerable individuals post 18, despite the loss of funding and other challenges. As part of this we’re creating a charity, the Bedspace Trust, where funds raised will be used specifically to support young people post 18.
Although the charity will certainly help our young people, it is essential that changes are made across the sector to avoid the vicious circle of pressure that comes with post-18 support.
Central Government needs to step up and make extra funding available in the short term, for the relatively small number of young people who are not ready to live independently at the time of the move on meeting. This would allow organisations like ours to provide that additional 20 hours of support we have experienced it can take to get a young person ready to move on.
We are keen to work alongside Local Authorities to develop a long-term strategy that supports this goal. Not only is it about providing short-term additional funding now for those post-18, but it is also about the need and importance of a forward-thinking, joined-up approach to those pre-18. When planning for a child and young person’s future, it should be about the need and not the cost. We are evidencing that this has a detrimental effect on someone’s life and we end up acting reactively. If we make these changes, we will achieve better and more sustainable outcomes for our young people.