Up to one in three young people seeking help from their local council because they are homeless or about to become homeless are being turned away unaided, new research has found.
Freedom of information requests completed by 260 English councils and returned to Centrepoint, the charity for homeless young people, found that only 67 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds seeking help were recorded as getting some sort of assistance from their local authority.
That left 33 per cent – one in three – who simply disappeared from the records, with every chance that they had been turned away unaided.
And this Christmas, Centrepoint warns, some 25,000 young people could be at risk of homelessness.
Now, to fight what the charity’s patron the Duke of Cambridge has already called the “shameful” scale of the problem, The Independent has joined forces with Centrepoint in a Christmas appeal for funds to launch the country’s first nationwide helpline for young people facing homelessness.
The Centrepoint Young and Homeless Helpline appeal comes as:
- More than 150,000 16 to 24-year-olds are approaching local councils in the UK every year to seek help because they are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
- Front-line Centrepoint workers say a helpline is urgently needed to help plug gaps in services left by central Government austerity cuts.
- Polling has found that more than half of young people admit they wouldn’t know what help they were entitled to if they were facing homelessness.
- New research by Centrepoint suggests that for the past three years the true scale of youth homelessness in England has consistently been more than five times greater than that suggested by official Government statutory homelessness figures.
- Young homeless people are turning to increasingly desperate measures – 12 per cent of them have gone as far as committing a crime so they could be taken into a police cell for the night.
- Centrepoint says the helpline will help it to build on its record of saving the taxpayer £2.40 for every £1 the charity spends.
As well as funding the helpline, the money raised by the appeal will also help pay for the kind of work that allows Centrepoint to achieve positive outcomes with 90 per cent of the young people it assists.
The charity aims not just to put a roof over young heads but also to deal with underlying problems – to rebuild shattered confidence, to teach life skills and, eventually, to turn lives around.
And for many young people, the helpline will be the first step in that process, their first point of contact.
Paul Noblet, Centrepoint’s head of public affairs, said the charity’s new research showed how badly a nationwide helpline was needed.
Speaking of the one in three who fail to appear in council records as fitting the statutory homeless criteria – where the council has a legal duty to accommodate them – or having received other support such as help to stay in their current home, he said: “We just don’t know what happens to them. These young people are turning up to their local authorities and in data terms, they are just disappearing. They might be receiving some kind of [undocumented] support – we just don’t know.”
The 33 per cent figure for those who were potentially turned away in the financial year 2015-16 was, he added, a marked increase on 2014-15, when up to 18 per cent were left unaided by their council.
“There is a fear that young people are not being helped,” he said. “That’s the worst case scenario and it is totally plausible. Because we know local authorities are really struggling themselves because of cuts.”
“I don’t think there is a housing officer in any council who wants to turn people away,” he added. “They will always try to make the most generous decision possible. But they are under such pressure because there simply isn’t the money.”
His sentiments were echoed by front-line Centrepoint workers across the country who have told The Independent that the helpline is needed now more than ever.
Due to go live in February, it will, they say, be launched against a backdrop of austerity cuts imposed by central Government on councils that are often the main source of funding – either directly or through grants – for local efforts to help young people.
In Bradford, West Yorkshire, where the city council has warned of a £125m to £130m funding gap by 2020, Centrepoint manager Freda Dyson admitted: “I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered Centrepoint was going to develop the helpline. It hasn’t come a moment too soon.”
In the past 12 months alone, she explained, she had seen other charities forced to close three of the advice centres that were once dotted around the city and able to help young people in crisis.
“This helpline,” said Ms Dyson, “will be an absolute lifeline for young people.”
Especially so, she added, because in her experience, many young people trying to deal with imminent homelessness “haven’t the foggiest idea where to go for help”.
Newly released YouGov polling data analysed by Centrepoint suggests that nationally, 56 per cent of young people – more than half – wouldn’t know what help they were entitled to if they were facing homelessness.
When it came to seeking help and support with imminent homelessness, 41 per cent of young people admitted they wouldn’t know where to go.
And yet the same polling data showed that an estimated 1.1 million (17 per cent) of young people said they had at some point stayed in an insecure or unsafe place, because they had nowhere safe to call home.
Centrepoint research also shows how young people are turning to desperate measures when facing homelessness.
The charity found that 12 per cent of young homeless people have gone as far as committing a crime so they could be taken into a police cell. Nine per cent have tried to get themselves admitted to hospital casualty units to get themselves a bed for the night.
When it came to homeless children under the age of 18, 61 per cent admitted to feeling unsafe.
“The helpline will be a key intervention,” said Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin. “The critical thing is to give young people information, so they make the right decisions, and don’t start on the downward spiral into things like drugs, alcohol and gangs that is the killer for young homeless people.”
He was backed by Mr Noblet, who said that if it worked, the helpline will add to Centrepoint’s record of actually saving the taxpayer money.
The charity, he said, is diverting young people away from crime and expensive prison stays. It is preventing them from suffering the ruinously unhealthy lifestyle associated with homelessness, while teaching them life skills that include instruction in cheap, healthy cooking – and by so doing, it is stopping them from being a drain on NHS budgets.
And thanks to Centrepoint, young people are being turned from potential benefits claimants into hard-working taxpayers. Which means, said Mr Noblet, that Centrepoint estimates that for every £1 the charity spends, the taxpayer saves £2.40.
The helpline, he said, might aim to save some of the most vulnerable young people in the country, but the side effect was a saving for the taxpayer:
“Wouldn’t you be livid if as a taxpayer you found out that a little up-front investment in a young person could have stopped them from becoming a repeat offender or a repeat homeless benefits claimant?
“The helpline is the right thing to do for young people, for the taxpayer, for everyone."
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Homelessness amongst those aged 16-24 has fallen by 17 per cent since 2010. While this is good progress, one person without a home is still one person too many.
“This Government wants to build a country that works for everyone and that’s why we’ve invested £500m to tackle homelessness – including prevention funding and £40m for councils to help rough sleepers.
“Just last month we announced that we would be backing [MP] Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, which will also provide vital support for many more people.”
How to donate to The Independent’s Christmas Appeal
The Independent’s Homeless Helpline appeal is raising money for the Centrepoint Helpline, a brand new support service that will save young people from ending up on the streets.
To donate you can:
0300 330 2731
HOME66 £5 to 70070
40-42 Phoenix Court
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