Vulnerable young women are being forced into unsafe shared houses by the government’s “deplorable” housing policy, campaigners have warned.
Under current rules, most single people under the age of 35 are only entitled to receive enough housing benefit to cover the cost of a single room in shared accommodation – not a home for just themselves.
But a study by the University of Southampton – published with the Young Women’s Trust – warned that the policy was leaving many young women in danger of violence, abuse and discrimination by leaving them with no choice but to live with strangers.
Researchers spoke to domestic abuse victims forced to house-share with men they didn’t know, as well as young LGBT, black and ethnic minority women who had received racist and homophobic abuse from their housemates.
Meanwhile, the study branded the rule a “catch-22 situation” for young mothers looking to regain custody of their children.
While their age and the fact their children are not living with them means they are only given enough housing benefit to pay for a room in a shared house, they are not allowed to have their children live with them in shared accommodation.
“The more we learn about this failing policy, the more deplorable it seems,” said Young Women’s Trust chief executive Carole Easton.
“Not content with discriminating arbitrarily on age to leave young people with poorer quality housing, the policy actively puts many young women in danger,” she continued.
“No matter their age, no-one should be made to feel unsafe, be treated with less dignity or separated – purely on the basis of a legislative loophole – from their children.”
The government must address the “devastating effects” of the so-called ‘shared accommodation rate’ of housing benefit for young people, she added.
The results of the study come on the same day think-tank Reform warned of a postcode lottery for youth homelessness services.
Under the government’s landmark homelessness prevention law, which came into force last year, public bodies have a duty to refer young people they believe are homeless or at risk of homelessness to local authority housing teams.
But the think-tank warned that for 25% of local authorities, at least 50% of referrals were incorrect.
Services that are likely to encounter young homeless people – like hospitals and schools – must take more responsibility for preventing homelessness, the report said.
A government spokesperson said: “No-one should ever be without a safe place to stay or forced to decide between being homeless or re-entering abusive relationships.
“That’s why the government is committed to preventing and reducing all forms of homelessness, backed by £1.2 billion of funding so far.
“Local authorities will also now have to legally assess the level of support needed in their local area and match that need with vital, life-saving services.”