Efforts to find jobs, training or college courses for tens of thousands of school leavers are being jeopardised because of a data protection row with the university admissions service, town hall chiefs warned last night.
The dispute centres on moves by councils to target help on the estimated 700,000 “Neets” in England – 18-24 year-olds who are not in employment, education or training.
For years councils have been able to ask the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for information about teenagers moving into higher education.
Authorities have used the Ucas data to identify and support unemployed school leavers in danger of heading for the dole.
Ucas will no longer provide the information from next year, explaining it has reviewed its data protection guidelines and will in future pass it on to schools rather than town halls.
In an angry response, the Local Government Association said it had been left with a £3.8 million bill for tracking down Neets who need vital help.
It accused Ucas of providing similar information about admissions trends to marketing companies selling goods such as mobile phones and drinks to young adults.
Peter Box, chairman of the LGA’s economy and transport board, said: “We are in real danger here of being unable to effectively help those who are being left behind.
“In a time of austerity we should be pulling together to provide the best opportunities for young people but this puzzling decision is pulling us in opposite directions.”
Ucas, which handles around 400,000 university applications a year, explained it had decided to supply the details to schools in future following a review of its data protection rules. It also claimed that fewer than one in 10 councils had asked for information about university applications in recent years.
A Ucas spokesman said: “Schools are best placed to provide vital context around this information, such as whether the young people are resitting their exams, and the government recommends this method of data collection.”
Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will today set out plans for a £30 million package of help to prevent young people from becoming Neets.
The money will partly be used to improve the job prospects of 18,000 pupils in more than 100 schools by giving them new skills. The rest will be spent on finding accommodation, as well as employment, education or training, for 2,000 homeless young people.
Mr Clegg said: “Our most vulnerable young people can feel like they’re stuck in a rut and cast aside by society, with no future or prospects to help them get the skills, confidence or opportunities they need to succeed.
“Our £30 million package opens up the chance for people to invest in programmes that deliver real results.”