For many young people, leaving care is often a tough experience which holds many uncertainties. Many do not have support from parents and instead have to navigate the complex transition to independent living on their own. Most are looking for help and assistance to build resilience as they prepare for adulthood and independence.
One of the ways care leavers can be helped, is financially.
Earlier this year I wrote to council leaders in England that offer children’s services asking them to support The Children’s Society ‘Wolf at the Door’ campaign, which argues in favour of council tax exemption for care leavers.
There is already plenty of evidence to support the case for exempting care leavers. The Centre for Social Justice found that 57% of care leavers find it difficult to manage money and avoid debt. According to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, debt and the threat to their tenancies are amongst the biggest issues in care leaver’s lives. So they need support. In exempting them from council tax, councils are taking a big step towards meeting the spirit of their obligation to meaningfully improve the lives of care leavers.
Legislation is already in place that has helped us recognise the importance of supporting vulnerable young people make the successful transition into independent living. The Government’s Care Leavers’ Strategy – Keep on Caring, The Children and Families Act (2014) and Section 2 of the Children and Social Work Act (2017) work in tandem to remind councils that they have a duty of care to care leavers.
At the launch of the “Wolf at the Door” report, 20 local authorities signed up to the campaign. Since then this figure has more than doubled to over 40 councils throughout England. I want to see the rest joining them.
I’ve been encouraged by the announcement by the First Minister of Scotland that all care leavers in Scotland under the age of 26 will be exempted from paying council tax.
This is a positive step towards directly tackling the fact that 21% of care leavers in Scotland become homeless within five years. It will help build the resilience of care leavers and reduce the stress they experience by reducing the financial burden they face.
Currently, support for council tax exemption among councils in England is growing – but slowly. Some councils are seriously looking into it, but I want all of them to implement this fair and workable policy that would give care leavers such a boost.
I know many councils are struggling with budget cuts and are often having to set priorities about where to make savings. Though there may be some councils concerned about losing between £15,000 to £30,000 for exempting a care leaver from council tax, this is actually a small figure in comparison to the amount they could be spending in chasing council tax arrears and the other costs associated with supporting a care leaver who has become statutorily homeless. In fact, some councils have found the move to be cost neutral.
As we look at the issues facing care leavers’ during National Care Leaver’s Week, I hope many more councils will take the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of care leavers, and join those who have implemented the council tax exemption policy.