Up to 9,000 young people could be forced on to the streets if Theresa May pushes ahead with cuts to housing benefits, according to a homelessness charity.
The Government confirmed on Friday that housing benefit would be scrapped for new applicants aged under-22, although there would be exemptions for those in special circumstances.
Homelessness charity Centrepoint estimates that 9,000 youngsters will be at risk of sleeping in the streets because of the changes – based on the number of 18-21 year olds currently claiming the benefit but not covered by exemptions.
One Tory MP has branded the policy as “catastrophic” but this morning Downing Street refused to back down.
In a document seen by Inside Housing, Centrepoint warned: “There is no simple or reliable way to put together a comprehensive list of exemptions which protect young people who cannot return to the family home.
“The youth homelessness sector estimate that the policy, as it currently stands, would mean that 9,000 young people will be unable to access accommodation and could be at risk of homelessness.”
Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said: “Homelessness is not inevitable and yet it is policies like this that have meant it has risen dramatically since 2010.
“This shameful move has been rightly been condemned by MPs in all parties.
“The Prime Minister should now ditch it entirely and instruct the Chancellor to cancel this cruel cut in the Budget on Wednesday.”
The changes to the housing benefit section of the Universal Credit payment were part of the Conservative’s 2015 General Election manifesto – and were estimated to save the Treasury £95million.
Campaigners opposed to the plan were hopeful that Theresa May and new Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green would axe the policy in a move away from the austerity-driven focus of their predecessors.
On Friday, the Government slipped out confirmation the changes would come into force in a matter of weeks, prompting strong criticism from homelessness charities.
Today the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman denied the accusation the policy had been snuck out in a manner to avoid scrutiny, and said: “It was laid in the same way that regulations are always laid and as I say it’s a very longstanding and public commitment of the government that this was going to happen.”
When asked if there was any chance of a u-turn or delay to the changes, he replied: “The first thing to say is this is the honouring of a long-standing commitment made by the Government.
“The second, and very important thing to say is nobody who is currently in receipt of any payment is going to lose out. This relates to new entrants into the system.
“The aim of it, as has been long stated is to ensure that young people don’t slip straight from school and onto a life of benefits.”
As well as the physical risks for young people forced to live on the streets, the policy will have a detrimental impact on their mental health.
Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, said: “For many young people, including those suffering with mental health issues, it will take more than jumping through the right hoops to qualify for support under the new rules, as councils may still struggle to find landlords who are willing to rent to them.
“Without a cast-iron guarantee that a young person will meet one of the exemptions outlined by the Government on Friday, many landlords are likely to let to other age groups where they will have no doubt of their right to support.
“This could spell disaster for the many vulnerable young people rightly entitled to help. ”
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman denied the policy was contrary to Theresa May’s aim to tackle mental health issues in the UK.
“There are a number of exemptions within the regulations which were laid to protect vulnerable people and that includes for instance children who are leaving care or those who have dependent children.
“That’s by no means exhaustive in terms of exemptions.”
The policy will not apply to those with dependent children, care leavers, those in temporary accommodation or young people who have been working for the previous 6 months.
An exemption will also apply if the Secretary of State judges it is inappropriate for individuals to live with their parents due to a threat of violence and other reasons.