Scottish Welfare Fund to be extended amid ‘shameful’ UK housing benefit changes
Support has been stepped up for young people at risk of being pushed into homelessness due to UK government changes to housing benefit, social security secretary Angela Constance has said.
The changes, due to take effect from 1 April, will remove the entitlement to housing support for 18 to 21 year-olds in receipt of Universal Credit who do not have a specific exemption, such as disability or childcare.
The Scottish Welfare Fund will now be extended on an interim basis to ensure those young people who will be excluded from financial support by the UK government will still be able to receive assistance with housing costs.
It comes after Ms Constance called on the UK government for a complete halt to the roll-out of full service of Universal Credit until problems with its implementation are fully resolved.
Announcing the extension of the welfare fund, Ms Constance said: “It is very disappointing, yet unsurprising, that the UK government has insisted on pushing through these shameful changes to housing benefit. This is hugely dismissive of the difficulties young people in Scotland face in obtaining and keeping a tenancy.
“We have been steadfast in our commitment to retain housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds and despite our repeated attempts to agree a solution with the Department for Work and Pensions and our calls for a delay, the UK government’s change in policy will clearly lead to a rise in the level of homelessness among that age group.
“Although our strong homelessness legislation in Scotland means that a young person who is assessed as homeless will be entitled to a minimum of temporary accommodation and, therefore, will become eligible for the housing element of universal credit, they will not be able to move into settled accommodation without losing that entitlement. As the chief executive officer of Centrepoint said, the UK government should scrap the policy rather than try to make a bad policy work.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that every young person can access the support they need. We are working with CoSLA to extend the Scottish Welfare Fund to provide a safety net to young people because we don’t want to see anyone without a roof over their head. However, this is not a long-term solution and I’m determined to continue to press the UK Government to agree a way forward that is suitable for Scotland.”
Adam Lang, head of communications & policy for Shelter Scotland, said: “We are deeply concerned by the UK government’s plans to exclude some 18-21 year-olds from receiving housing benefit at a time when rough-sleeping is on the rise and homelessness is far from fixed in Scotland.
“This is an additional barrier to housing for young people who are already struggling to find accommodation they can afford.
“Agreement between the Scottish and UK governments must be reached to protect younger people in Scotland from the worst effects of our housing crisis.”
COSLA community wellbeing spokesperson, Councillor Harry McGuigan, said: “There’s an urgent need to support the young people who won’t have their rent paid under Universal Credit. It would be unacceptable for them to start their lives with rent arrears and possible evictions.
“Scottish and Local Government have consistently prioritised action on housing and homelessness prevention. Councils are prepared to work with the Scottish Government, using our existing Scottish Welfare Fund arrangements, to meet this challenge.”