The thought of taking a step into independence can often be a frightening, exciting and challenging experience.
Looked after children aged 16 or 17 will have foster care and semi-independent homes available to them, and there is also a 'staying put' option available for young people who wish to remain with their foster carers after turning 18. This will give you the chance to learn how to manage your own home and receive help from those who can support you.
Moving into independence at age 18 is a big change. You will have to support yourself on a set amount of money each week, with which to:
- buy your food, clothing and household items
- cook and clean for yourself
- arrange your time daily to get to work, college, appointments, meeting friends, managing visitors to your home
- make sure you keep to the rules of where you are living.
You will get the right amount of support you need to help you develop your skills in readiness for living independently. Your personal adviser (PA) will be able to discuss the variety of options available with you as you are approaching 18 and thinking of moving to full independence.
Housing in West Sussex, to put it bluntly, is hard to come by and very expensive. There is also a big shortage of council houses and flats (sometimes called social housing). This means that care leavers should expect to be renting privately.
Our PAs do help care leavers by helping you find landlords and supporting with up-front costs such as deposits or rent in advance. There is also supported accommodation available to young people who have a higher level of need, which may have staff on site or on call to provide extra support. This may also include accommodation for young people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
2 Living independently
Once you are 18 there are a variety of housing options to suit your needs.
The most common form of accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds in West Sussex is foster care. The support of a foster carer is absolutely vital to ensuring you are ready for adulthood. The foster home itself can be treated as a ‘practice arena’ for tackling issues you may experience as an adult, for example:
- budgeting to limited finances
- shopping for the right kinds of food
- learning to prepare meals
- understanding and responding to letters and documents, such as a utility bill or tenancy agreement.
If you and your foster carer agree, one option is for you to remain with your foster carer after turning 18. This 'staying put' agreement is usually considered as an option to ensure there is no disruption to your accommodation arrangement.
West Sussex will pay for this provision until you become 21 years old or until your course of education ends, up until the age of 25, whichever ends sooner. If you and your staying put provider agree for you to remain after this, you can make a private arrangement with them. This means you would pay rent independently. It is also a good idea to have your name on a housing register.
Accommodation for adults with all different kinds of needs, such as people with learning or physical disabilities, mental health issues, dementia or vulnerable older people can be sought through our Shared Lives scheme.
A Shared Lives carer looks after someone aged 18 or over, who is unable to live independently. They provide support for either short periods during the day, welcome someone to stay in their home for short breaks or provide a long-term home. The emphasis is on providing an ordinary family life so that they can live or stay within the community.
Some of the activities they might help with include:
- helping with washing and dressing (personal care)
- preparing food
- taking someone to clubs and activities
- providing emotional support.
We will support you to apply for a place on the housing register. West Sussex doesn’t have its own housing. There are seven different district and borough councils who can give priority to care leavers in most need. However, they all have their own criteria, such as whether you have been living in the area for a certain length of time or have any family members living there.
If you are accepted on the housing register you may have to wait a long time before you get any offer of housing and your personal advisor may have to evidence your ability to manage a tenancy.
All new tenants will get a starter tenancy for an initial one or two-year period, but longer terms are available. If you were previously on the housing register and think you may have been removed, you should ask your worker to confirm this for you, so we can look at getting you added again.
Independent accommodation (privately rented)
At the age of 18, most care leavers move into their own accommodation which is most likely to be a private-rented room in a shared house. This is often call a house with multiple occupants (HMO). Very few young people are fortunate enough to be offered a studio or one-bed flat, so the expectation should be that you will live with other young people.
You will work with your personal advisor to find somewhere in your preferred area to live. If you were studying at college for instance, then we will try to help you find somewhere to live nearby. There is never a guarantee that this can be done, and you run the risk of running out of options and even homelessness if you refuse multiple offers of accommodation.
Whatever accommodation you choose, it must be affordable. Generally this means it must not cost more than the local housing rate for that area. You can usually find the local housing allowance rates on the benefits section of district and borough council websites. Or, you can find the rates for all areas of England on GOV.UK.
You will be able to move in as soon as you sign the tenancy agreement and receive the key. A tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and a landlord stating what your rights are and what your landlord’s rights are.
There are different types of tenancy agreement, but the most common type is an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), which means your deposit is protected under a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme and at the end of the tenancy period (as on the agreement), the tenancy will just carry on going unless you or the landlord choose otherwise.
You may not live in accommodation under a tenancy agreement at all and instead have a licence agreement. This is like a tenancy but is very specific about a (usually) short period of time you can live in a property. You tend to have less rights with this type of agreement, so be careful!
You will have to sign and maintain your tenancy agreement but should make sure you read it through first to be certain you are comfortable with it. You will also be expected to pay rent on the property in a timely manner and will be able to access a setting up home allowance (SUHA) to furnish it.
Support from Housing to find independent accommodation will not stretch to 22, 23 and 24-year-olds, who will have to ask for advice. You can, however, approach the County Council for support with a deposit or rent in advance.
These are often rooms in a project, or sometimes individual flats or studio accommodation. Staff are on-site at various times and will include some type of support. Foyers are examples of supported living and are usually for ages 16–25 years. If you are considering this accommodation, you need to be aware that accepting regular support sessions is a conditional requirement, as is engaging in some type of education, employment or training.
There are various schemes available, usually allowing you to remain for two years with a 'move-on' protocol with the local housing authority. Another type of supported housing is student accommodation. This can be within halls of residence or shared housing with other students and will usually have a key staff member to support you.
Legally, we have to offer accommodation to care leaver university students during the extended holiday periods (Christmas, Easter and Summer) if they have nowhere else to live. If you are at university and your accommodation is not for 365 days a year, then you will be entitled to support from us.
Alternatively, you may want to find somewhere yourself. Other care leavers may make arrangements with family members or friends and will not need support.
3 Release from custody
If you are in custody, be it a prison or a young offender institution, we will assist you in making plans for where you will live when you are released, as long as you are still entitled to a leaving care service.
We’ll begin by liaising with Offender Management in your prison who will update us on your release date. We will consider the fact that there may be areas in which you may not be safe, and find supported accommodation if you require it.
How we support you if you are homeless or need emergency accommodation differs depending on your age.
If you are 16 or 17
If you are looked after and aged 16 or 17 (or are 16 or 17 and a relevant care leaver) you must contact your social worker, who will find appropriate accommodation.
This may be, for example:
- a night stop-type or short-term supported lodging in a home of a trained and vetted host
- an emergency bed in a specialist young people's supported accommodation service
- an emergency foster home.
If you are 18 to 21
If you are aged 18 to 21 and homeless, you should contact your personal advisor, or the helpline if they are unavailable. They will explore with you what happened and what options you might have, such as staying with friends or family. You may need to attend a same-day appointment at the local housing department.
Depending on the reasons for homelessness, we may offer emergency accommodation until housing issues can be resolved.
If you are 22 to 24
If you are aged 22 to 24 we can only support you to declare yourself homeless and be assessed the same as anyone else.
Out of hours support
If you find yourself homeless outside of office hours (9.00am-5.00pm Monday to Friday), or in need of emergency social work support that cannot wait until the next working day, phone our emergency duty service 033 022 22004 and ask for the out of hours social work team.
This is really for emergencies only. You must contact your personal advisor as soon as possible to let them know about your situation and follow the homelessness procedure.