TACT: A Charter for all seasons?

A Charter for all seasons?

by Amanda Cumberland, parliamentary and policy officer, TACT

A report published last week by the Children’s Society highlights the disturbing impact changes to emergency support are having on vulnerable families and young people.

In April 2013 the DWP Social Fund, which provided crisis loans for living expenses and Community Care Grants, was replaced with new local welfare assistance schemes to provide emergency and community support to those in need.

The report highlights significant concerns with the way these new schemes are operating. In addition to a real-terms cut of £150m in funding, the localisation of the new schemes is creating postcode lotteries in eligibility for support. Most worrying from TACT’s perspective is the finding that some local authorities are refusing to accept applications from under 18s. Ten local authorities reported some level of restriction on eligibility for those under 18, with eight ruling out awards to 16 and 17 year olds.

Community Care Grants provided a lifeline to young people leaving care at 16 and 17, helping them to meet the costs of setting up a home to live independently. Care leavers can now apply to their Council for a care leaver’s grant of up to £2,000 but this is discretionary. Furthermore, young people leaving care may need ongoing support and financial assistance, especially when living or employment arrangements change – exactly the kind of emergency situations previously covered by Community Care Grants.

TACT is also concerned at the requirement some Councils are placing on applicants to prove that their family is unable to provide them with support in the first instance. Young people leaving care may have complex issues around contact with their birth families, and in some cases this is not in their best interests. Care leavers must never be placed in a position of having to approach their birth family for assistance before being allowed to apply to local welfare assistance schemes.

TACT questions how this approach fits with the ethos of the Care Leaver’s Charter, a document signed by the local authority quoted in the report as refusing to make welfare assistance grants to under-18s. Local authorities signing the Charter agree to be a lifelong champion for care leavers. In particular, the Charter asks local authorities to agree that they will make sure care leavers do not have to fight for support they are entitled to, to be there no matter how many times a care leaver needs to come back for support, and to work proactively with other agencies to help care leavers sustain their home. Unfortunately, the principles of the Care Leaver’s Charter do not create enforceable obligations. This report demonstrates how basic principles of the Charter remain aspirational, with no remedy for care leavers disaffected by policies such as age-related eligibility requirements for emergency support.

This is one of the reasons TACT is supporting a range of amendments to the Children and Families Bill that would provide concrete forms of extended support for care leavers, including allowing young people to remain with their foster carer after the age of 18. As the Bill moves to the Committee Stage in the House of Lords we hope to see the reform of the care leaving system given the debate and support it deserves.