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Mary-Anne is a care experienced trainer and advisor, connecting the voice of lived experience and psychology. In this post she shares why she founded the Guarantor Scheme and wants every care leaver to have the opportunity to rent privately if they want to.

What made you start the guarantor scheme and what does the scheme provide?

The Guarantor Scheme started as a bit of a selfish endeavour.

The Guarantor Scheme means that the local authority will act as the guarantor for their care experience children, or young people in their leaving care journey.

When you’re first getting started out, you don’t have a high enough salary to be able to sign up to rent a flat or house, so whenever you go to rent privately you need a guarantor. In a lot of cases parents would be able to step in and help you out by acting as your guarantor. That’s what all my friends had.

When I left care, I wanted to move in with my friends after uni. I got way too far down the application process before even realising that I would need a guarantor. I essentially felt like I was being met with a computer says no response when I was told my staying put arrangement was coming to an end.

I was told I would have to move into a hostel for a couple of weeks whilst accommodation was being found for me, to get on the waiting lists for council housing, or I’d have to move into a supported lodge with other care experience adults.

So, my options as far as I could see were to move back into council housing, which is what I’d grown up in and had the worst memories of all, or to go and live in an environment with other care experienced young people. And at the time, I wanted nothing to do with my care experience. I wanted to sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened.

It was met with an expectation of, well, this is where we expect you to go, so these are the options for you. I felt really angry and let down. All I wanted to do was move in with my friends – not a big ask.

I even tried going round friends parents and seeing if they would act as my guarantor, having to ‘out’ myself as care experienced. I just felt this shouldn’t be the way I have to do it. Even when I felt like I had ticked all the boxes of what social services asked of me – I’d got good grades at school, I had gone to uni, I was going to do further study to be a teacher, and then I was just met with this response.

At the time, I was volunteering on the corporate parenting board in Devon, I was helping co-chair and it was after one of the meetings that an MP stopped me in the halls and said to me “you know, we are your corporate parents, we should be doing everything for you that your parents could, or would if they were in a position to do so”.

That was it, that light bulb went off. If my mum and dad could be my guarantor, then my corporate parents should have that same responsibility. I took it to my personal advisor and said this is what needs to happen, you’re my corporate parents, you need to be my guarantor. She said okay, go away and write down what this actually looks like.

This led to me coming up with an application process that basically assures that the young person is as ready as they can be for private renting, that they’ve got networks of support, that they can budget, and they have a plan of who they could turn to if things start to go wrong and know when they need to alert people if they need more support.

We put all of this together, took it to Devon, presented it to the court, the parenting board presented it to the full council. And the response was, yeah, it just makes sense!

Instead of low expectations of the housing offered to care experienced people this opens up their opportunities and allows them to aspire. So that was the argument behind it. Devon actually implemented it really quickly, without I think really realising what they were doing and how important it was. They just signed it off. I got to move in with my friends with Devon County Council acting as my corporate parent guarantor, It was just amazing and it really changed my life. That was the initial starting point of the scheme and it has only grown with more councils taking on the responsibility.

What preparation did you have in leaving care?

For me the conversations started right at the time that all of this was happening. There was no pre leaving care discussions or considerations about my route or my journey. I felt they thought oh, she’s at uni, she’s in halls, so that’s fine, she’s sorted. And then it was when that ended that suddenly I was being told maybe in two weeks time you’re going to have to live in hostel. It felt very immediate and not fully thought out.

Why was it important to start the scheme?

I think it’s really important to have started scheme because it is about aspirational practice. It’s about showing children and young people that you believe in them and that being reflected in your policies and procedures. It’s not just saying I believe in you, but actually thinking about all the different routes and opportunities and options that children and young people might have to make and providing them with equal opportunities – the same as the general population. As young people leaving care we should be asked where we want to go and be involved in decisions around this – with different routes provided and support in pursuing these offered.

I think it’s actually just part of filling those corporate parenting duties. And I know that it’s life changing, as it was life changing for me. I don’t know what would have happened if I had to move into a hostel. If I had to live with other character variants or people who I was in the headspace of not wanting to associate with, not wanting to have anything to do with care. I don’t know what would have happened if all of my friends got to move in together, and I didn’t. I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know if I would have continued my studying.

It has also made an impact in other young people’s lives. Shortly after Devon had initiated the scheme, Kent picked up the scheme too and it has changed the prospects for many care experienced people. Take one lad for example, he now works in Kent County Council, on their participation team. That all stemmed from the fact that he was able to have a guarantor to get a roof over his head and get the property that he wanted. Now he’s working in a field that he absolutely loves and his whole life has changed. It is a catalyst for your future to have the right to be able to choose where you live and to be able to access the future that living in that space can allow you to build – and just simple to have a home that feels actually your home. I think that’s why it’s so important.

Find out more about the guarantor scheme on Mary-Anne’s website. If any care experienced person is experiencing a similar situation, in terms of difficulty to get a guarantor, especially if you have not been in employment for very long, or to find suitable housing during or post university, please get in touch with the Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand team either via phone 0800 5280731 or via email [email protected] to discuss how best they can help you.

You can also read about more care experienced led projects in our series. You can also check out the other posts from our care experienced led projects series and if you’ve got a project you’d like to share, get in touch!

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