Although some councils have had success with supported lodgings, confusing tax relief rules and inadequate support may be deterring prospective providers. Maria Ahmed reports
The government has pledged to end the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for 16- and 17-yearolds by 2010 except in emergencies.
The target is part of the new £74m youth homelessness strategy. To reach it, local government secretary Ruth Kelly plans to set up supported lodging schemes in every council.
Practitioners have welcomed Kelly’s plan but say lessons must be learned from schemes already being run by several councils and charities, where residents rent rooms to young people and offer support. Many are linked to family mediation services.
Bath and North East Somerset Council has been running a supported lodging scheme since February last year and places nine 16 to 18-year-olds with eight providers.
Ann Robins, the council’s housing services planning and partnership manager, says the scheme works well for vulnerable and chaotic young people who lack independent living skills. “Supported lodgings have benefited young people who previously would have been placed in bed and breakfasts and hostels. It has helped people coming out of care to avoid the homelessness cycle.”
Providers are given £130 a week for each young person and house them for up to two years.
Robins believes the scheme is better value than other types of accommodation, citing the cost of at least £175 for a week in bed and breakfast.
However, she believes the government will have to provide better guidance to HM Revenue and Customs on how much tax relief providers can claim.
“This is one of the biggest obstacles, as the amount of tax relief seems to vary between Revenue offices,” Robins says. “They don’t seem to have enough information about supported lodging schemes.
The government must address this if the scheme is to be rolled out.”
In Newcastle, a supported lodgings scheme has been running for six years. Gill Lewis, Newcastle Council’s project manager, is encouraged by the results. She says: “It gives young people a much better quality of care than hostels and bed and breakfasts, where they would get little or no input.”
But recruitment of providers can be a problem because many view the payments – £134 a week in Newcastle – as too low, and young homeless people can also be perceived as “trouble”.
Despite this, the council has placed about 200 young people in the scheme since it began, and many have gone on to university.
Young people’s charity Rainer, which runs supported lodgings for care leavers for Kent Council, is piloting a similar scheme for young homeless people.
Mick McCarthy, manager for Rainer services in Kent, says investment in providers is needed.
“If the government wants people to provide rooms and support on a semi-voluntary basis, the schemes will not work,” he says.
“Providers need the right level of financial input to make sure young people’s placements are supported. It’s not just about providing accommodation.”
● Nearly one in four of all new homelessness cases are young people whose parents are no longer willing to have them at home, according to the latest government figures.
● Shelter estimates that more than one million children are trapped by bad housing or homelessness.
Contact the author