If you are a young person leaving care, the council has a duty to help and support you until you turn 21 or for longer if you continue with your education or training. Recent changes to the law mean that you can receive help and support until you are 25 but this is optional.
The amount of support you can get when you leave care depends on your age and circumstances. It is often confusing understanding the terms that councils use to describe care leavers. You may need to know what term applies to you when understanding your rights and the support available.
- Eligible child
A child aged 16 and 17 who has been looked after for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14 and who is still being looked after.
- Relevant child
A child aged 16 and 17 who has been looked after for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14 and who has left care. This also includes young people who were detained (e.g. in a youth offending institution or hospital) when they turned 16, but who were looked after immediately before being detained.
- Former relevant child
A young person aged 18 to 21 who was previously 'eligible' or 'relevant'. Councils support this group until aged 21, or longer if they are in education or training.
- Qualifying child
Any young person under 21 (or 24 if in education or training) who stops being looked after or accommodated in a variety of other settings, or being privately fostered, after the age of 16. This also includes young people who are under a special guardianship order.
Care leavers under the age of 16
If you are under 16 and are thinking of leaving care, your rights are very different because you are still considered to be a child. Speak to your social worker or contact Childline if you feel you want to leave immediately, if you are having serious problems where you live or are experiencing violence, abuse or bullying. Childline advisers can help with lots of different problems, not just housing. For further information about Childline visit the Childline website.
Housing options for care leavers age 16 or 17
The council is responsible for providing you with somewhere to live. The Leaving Care team will assist you with this and will work with you to develop your pathway plan, which is your plan for training or further education, your health needs, contact with family and friends, and what help and support you need after you leave care, including accommodation and financial support. Your social worker and your independent reviewing officer will review your pathway plan at least every six months with you and can help you plan where you want to live in the future based upon your needs, wishes and feelings.
For many young people, moving straight from foster care or residential care to your own accommodation is a big step. Sometimes young people will live in other places until they are ready for their own accommodation. Your social worker will talk to you about these options during their visits to you.
Returning to the family home
Some care leavers have some form of contact with their birth families, and you can choose to return there when you leave care. Please note that under the Children (Leaving Care) Act, returning to live with family can affect eligibility for services. If a young person aged 16 or 17 returns home successfully to a parent (or someone with parental responsibility) for a continuous period of six months, they can no longer be treated as a ‘relevant child’. They would instead be a ‘qualifying’ child. The local authority would have the power to advise and assist the young person, but there would no longer be any statutory duty to maintain your Pathway Plan.
Supported accommodation schemes including foyers
There are a range of supported accommodation options which can offer different services and varying levels of support.
Financial support for care leavers aged 16 and 17
The Leaving Care team should give you help and advice with education, accommodation and any benefits you might be entitled to if you are a parent. The council is responsible for supporting you financially if you are still under the age of 18. Your social worker will discuss your financial arrangements with you as part of your pathway plan.
Housing options for care leavers from the age of 18
Some of the options listed above will be available to you long term. However, you may also want to move on to the next stage of housing options.
Foster care - Staying Put
If you are in foster care you may choose to continue to live with your foster family. Your social worker will discuss this option with your carers and if they are agreeable a request for this will be made by your social worker around your sixteenth birthday. Foster care payments would cease, however an alternative financial arrangement would be made, with former foster parents becoming ‘staying put’ providers. The ‘provider’ would then play a role in your pathway plan, and help prepare you for the transition into more independent accommodation.
Council and housing association homes
Council and housing association homes are also known as ‘social housing’ and are usually cheaper than renting privately. If you are interested in renting a council or housing association property you must firstly register with West Cheshire Homes to find out if you are eligible. You can register online via the West Cheshire Homes website. Once you are registered West Cheshire Homes will notify you if you have been accepted and what band you are in. The greater your housing need, the higher band you will be awarded.
Renting from the private rented sector is a good option because you can claim housing benefit and be exempt from the shared accommodation rate until the age of 22. You can look for private rented housing through estate agents, letting agencies or by searching online. If you are renting you may need to pay a deposit of one month’s rent. The Council offers a Bond Scheme to assist people who wish to rent privately. Contact the Housing Options team for more information.
Supported housing may be an option if you need some support but also want some independence. It can mean that you get support in your home which is called ‘floating support’ or that you live in a supported housing scheme to get the level of support that you need. For further information on floating support visit the Forfutures website.
Supported housing services offer low, medium and high levels of support and may have a time limit on how long you can stay there. Often accommodation is self-contained but you may share communal areas such the lounge, utilities and garden. You can live independently, but there should be 24 hour emergency help available if you need it.
Going to University
If you are attending university your social worker and personal advisor will have discussed with you prior to your start date the housing options available to you. The leaving care team will pay for your accommodation 52 weeks per year. This will usually be at the local housing benefit rate unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Once you turn 18, you will be expected to be financially responsible for yourself, either through benefits or employment. Some financial assistance may be available in emergencies and if you are in education or training. You are entitled to the same benefits as other young people if you are not in education or training. Ask your Personal Adviser for help in claiming other benefits such as Universal Credit or ask the Job Centre. This will be discussed and agreed within your pathway plan.
Finding and paying for accommodation
In some cases, you can get housing benefit to help with rent even if you are working. As a care leaver, the shared accommodation rate for a private rented property will not apply until your twenty second birthday.
For further information on housing benefit visit the housing benefit page on this website.
You need to work out a budget to see what you can afford. Think about how much it might cost to run your own home and how to pay for it. Your personal adviser will help you with this as part of your pathway plan. For example:
- private landlords normally ask for one month's rent in advance and one month's rent as a deposit before you move in (the deposit should be returned at the end of your tenancy)
- find out how much of the rent you can claim for by checking local housing allowance (LHA) rates in your area (young people under the age of 35 can only claim rent for a room in a shared flat or house, however young care leavers are exempt from this rule until they turn 22).
- you have to pay for gas, electricity, water and phone
- you need money for food, clothing and travel expenses
- you may need furniture and other household items
The council may provide additional support for you when you move into your first home.
Emergency housing options for homeless care leavers
Get advice immediately if you become homeless or if you are living in unsuitable housing. Shelter offers a free housing advice helpline which is open every day of the year 8am - 8pm on weekday, 9am - 5pm on weekends.
For further information on Shelter visit the Shelter website.
If you become homeless once you've left care and you're aged 18-20 you will have an automatic priority need for housing. If you're 21 or over you might have a priority need if you are considered vulnerable. The Council's Housing Options team can help you with advice and assistance.
For further information or to apply for assistance contact the Housing Options team.
Our accommodation finder self help pack can be used by anyone trying to find accommodation in the Cheshire West and Chester area. You can increase your chances of finding something suitable by considering the full range of housing options available to you as well as knowing what you can afford.