Young people, and especially young people leaving care, can be at an increased risk of homelessness and of being exploited because they are homeless. Social Services and the Housing Executive share responsibility for looking after young people who are homeless. There are different responsibilities depending on your age and how long you’ve been in care but these organisations should work together to find you somewhere to live.
If you are under 16 and are thinking of leaving care, your rights are different because you are still considered to be a child. If you are having problems where you live, or are experiencing violence, abuse or bullying, you may want to leave immediately. If you are in this situation, telephone Childline on 0800 1111. Childline advisers can help with many problems - not just housing - and are available 24 hours a day.
Time spent in care
You are entitled to help from social services if:
- you are under 18,
- you have spent at least 3 months in care.
Being looked after by foster parents counts as having been in care. Social services may provide you with accommodation or financial help until you turn 21. If you go to university or college, you may be entitled to help until your 24th birthday.
Get advice from VOYPIC if you've spent fewer than 13 weeks in care. You are still entitled to some help but the rules are different. An adviser can check the help you are entitled to and may be able to help you find a place to live.
Social services don't have to help all homeless people who are under 18 but will check out your situation to see who is responsible for helping you. You will probably be entitled to help from social services if you are under 18 and:
- you have spent some time in care,
- you are disabled,
- social services decides that you are a "child in need".
If you are under 18 and not in one of these groups you should ask the Housing Executive for help if you are homeless.
Young people with disabilities
If you are disabled and homeless, or about to become homeless, social services should offer you help. You may also be entitled to help from the Housing Executive. The Housing Executive and social services should work together to give you the support you need.
A “child in need”
You will be offered help from social services if you are a child in need. Social services can decide that you are a child in need if you need help to manage your health and development. You can be a "child in need" even if you have not spent any time in care.
If you’re over 18 you would usually go to the Housing Executive for assistance. However, if you’ve have a history of care, are under 21 or are under 24 and still in full time education Social Services may also get involved. Whichever organisation you go to first, the Housing Executive and Social Services should work together to ensure you get the help you need and are legally entitled to.
What if social services won’t help?
Social services may not offer you the kind of accommodation or services that you need. You can complain to social services if:
- you were offered unsuitable accommodation or services,
- social services refused to look into your situation.
Get advice from an advice agency before making your complaint, as the complaints procedure can be complicated.
Get ready to leave care
You must meet with a keyworker as part of your leaving care package. Your keyworker will assess the help you need to allow you to live independently. You should create a leaving care plan with your keyworker. This plan should set out what help and support you will need after you leave care. Your plan should include:
- your housing options;
- how you will support yourself financially;
- life skills, like cooking and budgeting;
- your education, or training options;
- your employment;
- any other special support you may need.
Your keyworker should keep in touch until you are 21. Your leaving care plan should be updated if your circumstances change. If you’re confused or unhappy about the information your keyworker gives you, try talking to an agency like VOYPIC. You can speak to a young person’s advocate at VOYPIC by calling 028 9024 4888.
Work out your finances
Your housing options depend on how much money you have. Your keyworker should help you work out how much you can afford. When thinking about your finances remember:
- you probably won't get housing benefit until you turn 18;
- you will probably have to pay a deposit and a month's rent in advance if you rent privately;
- you will have to pay for heating, electricity and phone.
Social services must support you financially if you are under 18. Social services must make sure you have enough money for rent, food and travelling expenses. You probably won't get help from the Housing Executive or be able to claim benefits until you are 18.
If you are planning to leave care when you reach age 18, try to have some savings for emergencies. If you move into somewhere you can't afford, you could run into financial problems. For example, you could be evicted if you don't pay your rent.
Find a place to live before leaving
Your keyworker should help you find somewhere suitable before you leave care. If you leave care without being prepared you could end up with no money, nowhere to stay and few housing options. Find somewhere you can stay for at least the first few months. You may be able to stay with friends or relatives when you leave care.