Sept 2002

Rural Homelessness
Centre Point share their findings.

Centrepoint is the leading national youth charity working with socially excluded young people aged 16 to 25, who are homeless or at risk from homelessness, to support them in improving their lives. We work directly with over a thousand young people each year. We draw on this direct experience to inform the services we provide to local authorities and their partners around the country, enabling them to develop strategic and preventative approaches to youth homelessness. Centrepoint has built up considerable expertise working in 13 rural countries and with more than 40 local authorities over the last decade. We currently work in the rural countries of Cornwall, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Durham and Worcestershire.

  The Countryside Agency funds Centrepoint’s rural policy work. Through this partnership both agencies can strengthen their activities aimed at tackling the social exclusion faced by many young people in rural areas. To support these aims Centrepoint’s rural officer has established a Rural Youth Homelessness Network that has nearly 2000 members locally, regionally and nationally. Through it we transmit up-to date policy advice, promote good practice and gather information from all rural areas of the country. Our understanding of the issues, trends and what needs to be done has most recently been informed by a national survey of network members that produced responses from approximately half of the rural housing authorities in England (82), 78 housing associations and 97 voluntary organisations. Altogether there were over 400 responses. We also recently conducted focus groups with young people from rural housing projects, to gain their perspective.

The Issue
It has been estimated that nationally nearly a quarter of a million young people experience homelessness each year. Homelessness is not just about a lack of housing. It is one extreme result of many factors that can create socially excluded young people, including family breakdown, abuse and domestic violence, poverty, unemployment, and being in care.

In rural areas, young people’s social exclusion can be difficult to detect and tackle. Rural disadvantage is more dispersed than in urban areas. Averaged data on income and employment in rural areas often hides significant inequalities. The socially excluded and the affluent live side by side. Rural homelessness as a proportion of the national total has increased in recent years, from 11.8% in 1992 to 14.4% in 1996. More recently, our own research uncovered 199 homeless young people aged 16 to 25 in Worcestershire in a four-week period in September 2001. More than sixty were aged 16 or 17. Young people have reported staying in abandoned cars, tents, railway stations and empty houses.

However, in our recent survey professionals identified ‘the perception that homelessness does not exist in rural areas’ as one of the biggest barriers facing those young people who experience it.

Recent developments
The implementation of the Rural White Paper has meant progress on topics of key concern to young people at risk in rural areas. These include affordable housing, transport, services, market town regeneration and local democracy, as well as a new requirement for all government policies to be ‘rural-proofed’.

We also expect young people to benefit from the Homelessness Act 2002, which requires all local authorities to produce comprehensive reviews of homelessness, and develop strategies to meet the needs identified. Priority-need groups are being extended to give all 16 and 17 year olds and careleavers aged 18-21 priority homelessness status; whilst the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 has increased the support for young people leaving care, including assistance with housing until at least the age of 18. The DTLR’s Homelessness Directorate has now outlined an over-arching national strategy for homelessness in its document ‘More Than A Roof’.

The Supporting People programme is intended to ensure that all vulnerable young people receive the support they need in the best setting. The new Connexions Service has piloted work in two rural areas, specifically looking at rural delivery methods. The Children and Young People’s Unit, set up to support cross-government work on child poverty and youth disadvantage, recently published its draft strategy. It is now crucial to ensure that all these policies ‘join up’ meaningfully for young people.

Tackling social exclusion in rural areas
Local authorities and other public bodies, housing associations and voluntary organisations, all need to work together to respond the complex needs of young people who are socially excluded.

Our survey showed an encouraging number of local authorities in rural areas taking on responsibility for these issues. Four out of five stated that they consider young people’s housing to be a ‘strategic priority’. Some form of partnership working also now prevails – with a multi-agency forum on homelessness in some 70% of rural areas. However, in large rural areas, real participation can be very time consuming, and is beyond the capacity of some voluntary sector partners who rely on minimal infrastructure.

The importance of the active involvement of users and beneficiaries in determining, delivering and evaluating services is now widely acknowledged – and this includes young people. However, just one fifth of the homelessness forums involve young people directly. Young people want to actively participate in decisions that affect their lives.

"We need a representative who is a young person and knows what it’s like living on benefit" (Young person, Nottinghamshire)

Centrepoint is calling for:

>> Adequate resources to make inter-agency partnership a reality at a local level, particularly to enable voluntary sector organisations to participate.

>> A commitment to involving socially excluded young people in developing and evaluating all local strategies that impact on their lives, and an imaginative approach to making this work.

Responding to need
Homeless young people do not tend to appear in official homelessness statistics. Currently not many are considered to be in priority need by local authorities. As waiting lists are long, young people often do not appear on the housing register either. The government recognises that no accurate measure currently exists of the number of people living in temporary or insecure housing, such as people in hostels or sleeping on friends’ floors. So the levels and nature of young people’s housing need are not understood. This leads to inadequate and inappropriate provision.

Sites for rural housing projects are usually small and land prices high so appropriate provision is expensive and it is difficult to achieve economies of scale. It appears more cost-effective for providers to locate services for young people in urban centres. There is therefore little emergency accommodation in most rural areas, and affordable housing is equally scarce.

We found that:

>> Nearly 40% of the rural districts in our survey had no emergency accommodation at all for young people.

>> In some 30% of the rural districts young people would have to travel over 20 miles for emergency accommodation.

>> Some 70% of the rural local authorities currently use bed and breakfast to house young people for some length of time.

Young people in housing crisis tend to sleep rough or on friends and relative’s floors.

It is not surprising that, looking to the future, 60% of rural housing authorities say they are not prepared for the extension of priority need groups, to include 16 and 17 year olds and care-leavers.

One young person in Cornwall said that the worst thing about becoming homeless was "putting your friends in an awkward position by asking them to possibly let you stay a night at their home".

Centrepoint is calling for:

>> Local homelessness reviews and strategies to include specific attention to the needs of young people, with local authorities committed to proactively seeking out information on young people’s needs.

>> The opportunities that Supporting People provides to be exploited in rural areas. To develop coherent and integrated support and accommodation services for homeless young people, with an emphasis on a broader more innovative range of models of provision that are appropriate to specific localities. This will mean a commitment to choice, quality, dispersal and outreach of services.

Affordable housing

According to our survey, lack of affordable housing is the most important issue facing young people in the countryside today.

Many rural areas have large numbers of holiday and second homes. House prices are high, there is little social housing and renting in the private sector is expensive. Access to private rented accommodation is restricted in rural areas where there is high demand for housing, but supply is limited and young people are a low priority. For example, in parts of Cornwall a private landlord can fetch £500 a week in the summer for a flat that is usually £350 a month. This can produce seasonal homelessness, and our survey revealed that this is an issue for young people in nearly 40% of rural districts.

The Single Room Rent, which restricts the maximum housing benefit entitlement for single young people under the age of 25 living in the private rented sector, has had a negative impact in rural areas since its introduction in 1996. This is due to a lack of accommodation that matches the definition of a single room with shared facilities. Half of the rural districts surveyed, stated that they currently have less than 50 private sector properties that could meet those criteria. This has led to young people applying for housing benefit for larger properties and making up the shortfall in rent themselves. This is clearly not sustainable and landlords have been withdrawing from the under-25s market, and not just for young people on benefit. A broadening of the Single Room Rent definition in July 2001 has therefore made little difference to young people in rural areas, 59% of our survey respondents said it had made no difference and only 6% thought it had increased access to housing for young people.

Renting in the social sector is not an option for young people in many rural areas, not only because of right to buy sales, but also because of historically lower levels of local authority and housing association provision. New affordable housing in villages is mostly for families. It is therefore extremely difficult for homeless young people to move on from emergency accommodation to a place of their own.

Most of the young people in the focus groups cited family and friends as being their chief reasons for choosing to stay in a rural area, indicating the crucial importance for vulnerable young people of remaining close to these support networks, even if they cannot provide them with accommodation. We therefore welcome the commitment in the Housing Corporation’s Rural Strategy to developing more single units and specialist affordable housing provision for young people in villages and market towns. We need to find a new approach to affordable housing for young people, taking into account the need for a balance between independence and support.

Centrepoint is calling for:

>> The DTLR Affordable Housing Unit to prioritise working with key agencies and young people’s organisations to pilot innovative ways of creating appropriate affordable housing in rural areas.

>> Creation of incentives for landlords to increase the supply of private rented accommodation in rural areas, and to offer a reasonable proportion of all-year-round lets for young people.

>> Abolition of the Housing Benefit Single Room Rent, so that young people on benefits are not discriminated against.

Accessing services

The young people in our focus groups were very clear about the vital inter-relationship of housing, jobs, income and transport. Problems with rural transport were mentioned repeatedly. Nearly 80% of survey respondents reported that public transport in their area was inadequate for young people in timing and frequency, and three quarters said that public transport in their area was unaffordable for young people.

"You need to thumb lifts everywhere round here, because transport is too expensive, and there’s not enough of it – it’s a real problem if you want to get a job" (Young person, North Yorkshire)

A recent study of young people and transport in rural areas, suggested that the main method of accessing services and activities before the age of seventeen was by lifts from parents. Those who pass their driving test and have access to a car become more independent and mobile. If a young person is homeless or at risk, and cannot rely on this sort of parental support or financial help, they are doubly disadvantaged. Recent research found that the main issue for the Connexions service in two rural pilot areas was transport.

It is difficult for young people to have a rewarding social life and opportunities to access learning, earning, support and services in rural areas. This adversely affects their chances of a successful transition to independence, and of a decent quality of life in the present.

There are examples of good practice in addressing young people’s transport needs in rural areas, and the Rural White Paper provided a range of extra funds for rural transport, many of which are being administered at the parish level. Parish councils are vital to this process, but need to make special efforts to be aware of the complex needs of young people who are socially excluded in their area, and especially those at risk from homelessness.

Centrepoint is calling for:

>> A significant proportion of the new funds for rural transport to be allocated for services that are affordable, frequent and suitable for socially excluded young people in every area.

>> Parish councils to work to engage young people who are hard to reach, and those who work with them.

>> Active involvement of young people aged 16-25 in Rural Transport Partnerships.


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