HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc345-7W
Mr. Nicholas Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assistance is given by his Department to young people leaving local authority children's homes to live as independent adults, and whether he has any proposals for further assistance.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

Those 16 and 17 year olds living independently who were in care immediately before their sixteenth birthday may claim income support for a period of 12–16 weeks after they leave school (known as the child benefit extension period), provided that they register for YTS or work. They may also claim housing benefit.

Certain categories of young people are eligible to claim income support beyond the child benefit extension period. In addition, the Secretary of State has the power to direct that, where unavoidable hardship would result if benefit were withheld, a young person will be entitled to income support even though that person would not originally be entitled to it.

Since July 1989, all 16 and 17-year-olds who have good reason to live independently, including those leaving care, have been entitled to the higher income support personal allowance payable to 18 to 24-year-olds. Housing benefit allowances were also increased for all 16 to 17-year-olds with housing commitments.

Young people of 18 and over may claim income support provided that they are registered for work. They may also claim housing benefit.

In assessing benefit entitlement for these young people, payments made by local authorities under section 1 of the Child Care Act 1980 or section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 are disregarded. We have recently extended this disregard to payments under sections 27 and 29 of the Child Care Act and sections 24 and 26 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act.

Young people leaving care may also seek help from the social fund. In particular they may apply for community care grants to help with the expenses of setting up a home provided they meet the qualifying conditions.

Mr. Michael

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the problems caused for those persons aged 16 and 17 years by the lack of availability of benefit, even when they become unavoidably homeless;

(2) what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the problems caused within some low-income families by non-availability of benefit to those aged 16 and 17 years.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The best course for 16 and 17-year-olds who leave school and do not take up further education or a job is to participate in the youth training scheme. We have developed the scheme to provide good quality training. Youngsters taking part are paid a weekly allowance and do not, therefore, need to rely on benefit.

However, we have acknowledged that certain young people nevertheless need income support in their own right. In addition to lone parents, the disabled and the long-term sick, who can receive benefit without time restriction, young people forced to live independently cart claim income support during a limited period after leaving school, known as the child benefit extension period. They can also receive housing benefit.

Moreover, we introduced a package of changes in July which recognised the particular difficulties being experi-enced by some 16 and 17-year-olds with no option but to live away from home. An important element of this was to pay them higher rates of both income support and housing benefit.

In addition, my right hon. Friend has discretion to enable income support to be paid to a 16 or 17-year-old to prevent "severe hardship". Factors taken into account in determining whether there would otherwise be severe hardship include the vulnerability of the young person, particularly to becoming homeless. Homeless young people in night shelters are now considered automatically under the severe hardship provisions.

The parents of 16 or 17-year-olds who remain dependent may continue to receive child benefit during the child benefit extension period. During this time they may also be eligible for dependency additions to their own benefits, such as income support, family credit and housing benefit.

We have therefore taken steps to ensure that benefit is available to all who need it, but we shall continue to monitor the 1988 social security reforms, including those affecting young people.