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Care Leavers Attending University are Being Made Homeless by Their Local Authorities 

Young people leaving care in England are losing their right to local authority housing – because they’re trying to better themselves at university

Lucinda at her graduation. Photo: Supplied
Lucinda Fernandes Marvilha, seen above at her graduation, lost her housing support when she attended a university outside her local authority. Photo: Supplied

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Young people leaving care in England have lost their right to local authority housing by going to university, and have been told they made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ because they turned down accommodation they were unable to access while studying.

The development comes amid a sharp drop in social housing fuelled by insufficient rental accommodation, the demolition of homes, and rent to buy schemes. Care leaver homelessness has risen by 33% among 18 to 22 year olds since 2018, while one third of care leavers now experience homelessness in the first two years after leaving care.

Under the Housing Act 1996, a person can only be found to have made themselves intentionally homeless if they have deliberately done, or failed to do, something which ends their accommodation, or if the housing is still available and it would be reasonable for them to continue staying there.

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Government guidance on intentional homelessness adds that “an act or omission should not generally be treated as deliberate, even where deliberately carried out, if it is forced upon the applicant through no fault of their own”. However, local authority discretion to deny housing has left care leavers in higher education struggling to stay off the streets. 

“We hear from young people who are told that they are so called intentionally homeless because they have moved to a different part of the country to go to university,” Katharine Sacks-Jones, the Chief Executive of Become, a national charity offering support to children in care and care leavers, told Byline Times. “This is no fault of the young person. And we’re talking about very young people who are 18, 19, 20 years old.”

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Children must leave the care system on their eighteenth birthday and are expected to live independently, even if they attend university or access other forms of higher education. Local authorities are then required to provide a list of services for care leavers in their areas, but they vary widely between councils and help is often limited. 

While young people are entitled to a range of support services until age 25, including the right to a personal adviser who must keep in regular contact with them, and housing support once they turn 18, there is currently no legal duty on local authorities to ensure that care leavers are given housing after completing their education. 

Lucinda Fernandes Marvilha lost her housing support when she was 21 after attending a university which was not in her local authority area of North London. She was initially offered a flat in her area but was already enrolled for a Spanish and Dance degree at The University of Sunderland almost 300 miles away, making a daily commute impossible.

Despite having a personal adviser, the 27-year-old was never informed about her housing rights or told what would happen if she left her area to study.

Lucinda was told she had made herself intentionally homeless. Photo: Supplied

“The only reason I went so far away was because that was the only university that did that combined degree,” she explained, adding: “They are also well known for supporting people in care. They supported me really well in terms of course units and scholarships.”

When Lucinda graduated, her local authority informed her that she would not be provided with housing after turning down the original flat and that she had made herself homeless as a result. She was able to return to her foster carers who took her in without financial support from the local authority, after she ‘aged out’ of the foster care system at 21. 

Sophie Shasby, who left care at 17, was told without warning that she lost her right to accommodation after staying in her university’s halls of residence while doing a nursing course. 

Sophie Shasby lost her right to accommodation after staying in her university’s halls of residence while doing a nursing course.  Photo: Supplied

The 26-year-old tried to get support from her local authority, Cheshire East, but found that the council’s responses were slow and resulted on several occasions in her needing to get a privately rented flat. The council acted as a guarantor for the first six months in one flat when she was 17, but she had to move out after that as she could not afford it. Sophie rented several more flats privately with other people, but those arrangements were short lived and unstable. She again asked her local authority for help but they ignored her requests, then closed her case when she was 26 and no longer eligible for support.

Sophie, who was almost made homeless on two occasions during this period, was able to get housing from Cheshire West, where she now works as a mental health nurse. 

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That council, she explained, “were a lot more helpful even though they weren’t the council that looked after me”. She added: “Their attitude to everything was just completely different.”

Although Sophie is grateful for Cheshire West’s support, the constant fear of being made homeless has affected her mental health.

It’s been horrible. Nowhere has felt like home

Sophie Shasby

“The experience has gotten me into a pattern of even though I don’t like moving and I don’t want to move because I’ve moved so much, now after six months I start to think, where am I going next? So now I’ve got to get used to the fact that this is where I am now, for this year. It’s just caused so many disruptions in my life,” Sophie explained.

Matt Downie, the Chief Executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said councils were using intentional homelessness to deny care leavers housing. While the concept, he explained, was introduced to stop people “gaming the system to get preferential access to social housing. It is now used as a way in which limited resources can be kept from people that need them.”

He added: “Local authorities don’t have to use intentional homelessness. No one is policing a system that says you have to say that somebody is intentionally homeless”.

Ezra Rose wanted to get away from the care system as soon as she could, and decided to go travelling around Holland for two months when she turned 18 before continuing her education. 

Ezra Rose was told she was no longer eligible for housing after going travelling after years in the care system. Photo: Supplied

“I was craving freedom because growing up in care I wasn’t allowed to have a smartphone or access to the internet or social media. And then all this freedom landed on me at once. I decided to just go for it because I was sick of everything,” the 24-year-old told Byline Times

Although she had notified her personal adviser about the trip and had left contact details, when she returned to the UK Ezra was told her case had been closed and she was no longer eligible for housing support. Ezra’s personal adviser said she had “disappeared for two months” and in so doing had made herself intentionally homeless. 

Ezra had begun a relationship with a man she met in Holland, however they were unable to move in with her foster carers together because of child protection regulations which prevent young people in care living with their partners. Scared that they would have to live on the streets, Ezra and her partner, who are now married, moved in to her disabled mother’s house, which was not allowed under her mother’s housing agreement. Ezra then became her mother’s carer.  

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“I wanted to stay with my mum because I love my mum and she relied on me to help. So I asked if I could get some kind of housing help and the answer was no. I just felt really lucky that my mum was able to give me that place. But at the same time, that meant that I had to become a full time carer for her while also studying independently and it was a lot of work,” Ezra said. “I could have been on the streets. It’s so bizarre to me that that was a potential possibility. I can see the steps I could have taken to fall through the net if I had slightly different circumstances. It makes me angry”.

I’ve always felt really terrified by instability, and any kind of threat that I perceive to my housing really frightens me. It gives me nightmares.

Ezra Rose

The experience has left Ezra with the constant fear of being homeless: “I’m afraid to talk to landlords just in case they don’t like me anymore. That total fear of instability and knowing that it’s a real threat, it lives with me always.”

Changes made to the homelessness code of guidance for local authorities on 3 May by the Department for Education and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have tried to address care leaver homelessness.

The amendments invite local authorities to record practices between children’s and housing services to make intentional homelessness decisions for care leavers only in exceptional circumstances and to create a sign-off process for such decisions. 

Sacks-Jones welcomed the guidance but remained concerned about its impact as it was something “local authorities should take heed of but don’t always”.

When young people have overcome all these hurdles and done brilliantly and got a university place that we’re saying if you take it you’re going to be intentionally homeless. It’s outrageous

Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Become

“There needs to be legislative change to make clear that young people should not be being deemed intentionally homeless once they’ve left care. I’m sceptical about what differences it will make.”

Local authorities denying housing to care leavers in higher education are forcing a growing number of young people to choose between their accommodation and education, creating an additional barrier for those wanting to create a better future for themselves, and who already fare worse than the general population for educational outcomes. 


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A report published in July 2022 by Parliament’s Education Committee found that local authorities had been responsible for a “host of indefensible system failings” which had damaged educational outcomes for children in care. In that same year, just 14% of children in care had progressed to higher education by the age of 19, compared to 47% of all other pupils, according to data provided by the government. 

“Young people and children in care are moved around the country, they face high instability. Education is disrupted. It’s not good enough when young people have overcome all these hurdles and done brilliantly and got a university place that we’re saying if you take it you’re going to be intentionally homeless. It’s outrageous,” Sacks-Jones said. 

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