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A frank discussion with Phil Killen about the state of the children's care sector within the UK.

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

by Phil Killen, Head of Services - Children's Services, Safe As Houses

Since embarking on a career within the health and social care sector in 1995, I have experienced marked changes in both children's and adult supported living services.

I began my career in the children’s residential sector with an organisation that pioneered 1-1 support for adolescents who had experienced severe early years childhood trauma and abuse.

Children’s care twenty years ago

Despite the use of transactional analysis and therapeutic approaches, it became apparent that the sector needed fundamental and immediate intervention to deliver the desired level of quality care. During the early stages of my career, the health and social care industry was still very much wide-open for inappropriate use of physical restraints and had a lack of regulatory requirements for evidencing positive outcomes.

Appropriate accommodation and environments were certainly not at the forefront of care providers’ agendas and the sector seemed to be oversaturated with cheap methods of service provision, whereby providers focused more on profitability than providing quality.

With the quality of care not being effectively measured across the UK, a series of severe case reviews across the country came to light, sadly resulting in findings of extensive incidents of abuse in institutionalised settings.

Although undoubtedly, the sector has undergone significant improvements, there is still an abundance of providers, operating across substandard and unsustainable properties - particularly in the unregulated care leavers sector.

Children’s care today

In recent years, the Inspection Outcomes from Local Authorities have shown three-quarters of the children’s social care services have been reviewed under regulations were judged as good or better last year, which is obviously fantastic news.

That said, Yvette Stanleys who is Ofsted National Director for Social Care reported, “good practice is characterised by strong partnership working, effective leadership and specialist training for staff. Lessons learned need to be shared across multi-agency partnerships.” The sector’s biggest challenge is sufficiency, capability and quality of accommodation.

It will be no surprise to many of you that there are simply not enough children’s homes providing the right services in the right places, with the right properties.

Bringing it right back to basics, at Safe As Houses, we conduct extensive targeted research, such as demand-led requests and information from Local Authority Commissioners, Care Providers and updates on Governments statistics. This allows us to begin to meet the demand, but it is difficult to get a handle on just how much demand there is due to conflicting figures and statistics.

When a children’s home is found to be inadequate, it is often because of workforce issues and predominantly a lack of staff capacity who aren’t meeting children’s needs. However, it must be stated that unfit-for-purpose accommodation is also a major contributory factor.

Unfortunately, the residential workforce often tends to be low paid, undervalued and, in some cases even unqualified. My personal concerns call for more national oversight and strategic leadership to solve this overarching problem, but I’m mindful that this is not something that can be solved by one local authority or charity alone.

In joining Safe As Houses, I am currently liaising with several providers about their housing needs, and am in discussion with the private and public sectors regarding the strategy for 16+ care leavers.

For a very long time, this sector has been exposed to and abused by poor quality care providers that offer sub-standard accommodation for young people in care, including asylum-seeking children.

Profiteering housing associations that work in collaboration with unregulated providers are not reaching the outcomes that these young people deserve to be achieving. On the plus side, however, there are incoming changes in legislation and regulations for care leavers to identify and remove any financial predators.

The concerns care leavers are faced with

The Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) reduces the amount of Housing Benefit or Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit a single person under the age of 35 can claim for private rented property. This was extended in January 2012 from those aged 25 and under.

There are a few exceptions to this rule in both Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claims, including claimants under the age of 22, who were formerly in social services care.

Care leavers up until the age of 22 will receive the one-bedroom self-contained rate 1.

However, when care leavers reach the age of 22, they will fall within the definition of single claimants aged under 35 and will then be subject to the shared room rate 2.

There are further exceptions to this rule, that may benefit care leavers who reach the age of 22. These being:

  • For Housing Benefit claimants any claimant who receives the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) in their benefit claims will be exempt from the Shared room rate and will receive a self-contained one-bedroom rate 3

  • For those in receipt of Universal Credit who are under 35 and in receipt of the mid or high care component of DLA or daily living component of Personal Independence Payment. This is different and somewhat more beneficial than the Housing Benefit rules above as it won’t matter if someone is claiming Carer’s Allowance / Carer Element of Universal Credit for looking after them. However, the loss of the SDP could be a financial disadvantage for the claimant

A sudden shortfall in housing costs often puts care leavers in a position where rent arrears could accrue quite quickly. This can be particularly exacerbated as there is no guarantee that a Discretionary Housing Payment application will be accepted. The short nature of any application that is granted may not give the greatest safeguard to prevent rent arrears from accruing.

If care leavers do not downsize to shared room accommodation, negotiate their rent with the landlord, or are lucky enough to find suitable, self-contained and affordable accommodation, they are likely to struggle financially with such a large decrease in income.

Care leavers are entitled to various types of support until they reach the age of 25. Generally, this is provided in the form of a personal adviser, they can also be exempt from paying Council Tax up and in some cases obtain ‘moving on’ grants of up to £2,000.

The 2014 Children & Families Act also introduced the ‘Staying Put’ duty. This requires local authorities to support young people to remain with their former foster carers to age 21 when both the young person and carer want the arrangement to continue. However, it is unclear how realistic this has been with verified statistics.

Moving into independent living in the private renting sector is likely to be difficult for a care leaver, particularly for those leaving accommodation under the ‘Staying Put’ duty. Care leavers at the age of 21 will only have one year before the LHA rate is reduced to the Shared Accommodation Rate.

For some, this may add to their already fragile and fledgling independence and budgeting skills. Their landlords may not be willing to enter into new agreements or give approval for any arrears to be repaid over time. In some cases, this could lead to a section 21 (housing evection) notice being issued.

Under the 1996 Housing Act, certain care leavers (in England, Wales & Scotland) under the age of 21 are automatically given priority when it comes to homeless applications. However, those over the age of 22 are not applicable to be automatically given priority needs. This results in the local authority deciding as to whether they are deemed to be a ‘vulnerable’ person.

Subsequently, there is no guarantee an applicant will be found to be considered ‘vulnerable’. The likelihood that under any prevention or relief duty brought in by the Homeless Reduction Act 2017 is that further privately rented accommodation will be sourced as ‘suitable’ accommodation to discharge the respective duty into.

Innovating change

Care leavers may require self-contained accommodation due to the issues they have experienced in the past, and to help them a life of independence. It is, therefore, possible that unwillingly they could end up in a cycle of continually living in unaffordable or otherwise unsuitable accommodation.

It is for these reasons and many others, that both my employer Safe As Houses and I feel extremely passionate about exploring the solutions surrounding this issue.

We wish to work closely with the Regulators, Housing Associations and Care Providers who are also listening to the young person’s needs. The needs that are paramount to all of us tackling the barriers that they collectively face.

Together, we need to be shaping a natural pathway from care users being accommodated within a care setting to being supported in settling into their own individual accommodation scenarios. Ones that are truly sustainable and reflect the needs of the individual concerned.

Could raising the LHA rate to the age of 25 for care leavers alleviates this? Perhaps in some cases, but it may just be delaying the inevitable. Arguably it would allow for more stable support plans to be put in place to allow care leavers to build up the skills required to manage their affairs better. Until then, what can be done practically?

As of March 2022, I am delighted to have joined the forward-facing and progressive organisation that is Safe As Houses. This will enable me to explore and influence increased investment into the care sector so that there will be a plentiful supply of high-quality homes within the right areas.

I believe that there is far more than we could collectively do to improve the stature of the sector and raise the bar in terms of offering vulnerable care leavers a positive future regarding their accommodation plans.


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