Young people leaving care are losing out under the UK’s welfare benefits system, according to a report published by the National Care Advisory Service.
The NCAS has now proposed that benefits budgets should be transferred to children’s services so England’s 5,000 care leavers in further education can be supported in the same way as their peers.
The report, What Could Make the Difference? – care leavers and the welfare benefits system, reveals shortcomings that make it harder for care leavers to gain suitable accommodation and employment, training and education.
These include: misinformation from benefits office employees about entitlements; difficult claims processes, resulting in delayed payments and income gaps and difficulty accessing benefits to enable work experience and training.
The report also calls for the benefits system to be strengthened to help care leavers who do need to access benefits, such as ensuring there are named contacts in all services who are fully trained to understand benefits entitlements.
A government spokesperson said: “We have already taken steps to tackle some of the issues raised in the report, but we know there is more to do.”
In response, the government has pledged to begin work on developing a care leavers’ page on Directgov and work with the NCAS on its benefits guidance for young people leaving care.
It will support local initiatives that allow young people leaving care to apply for benefits up to two weeks before they turn 18. This would mean they will have access to payments earlier. The government has also said it will consider increasing the flexibility in the Income Support rules concerning second-chance learning.
Wendy Green, national manager of NCAS, said: “The benefits system is difficult to navigate for anyone, but for care leavers who are particularly vulnerable it can be especially difficult.
“We are pleased that government has committed to taking forward some of the recommendations in the report, but a commitment to overhaul the system is needed to ensure that care leavers are given the best possible start in life…
“Better joint working is central to improving the system. We need to learn from the good practice that is already out there and ensure that this is implemented across the country.”