Public policy context

The type and quality of support that homeless young people receive has changed dramatically since Centrepoint opened its first hostel in 1969. Increasingly, an important part of the work that Centrepoint does is with national and local government to improve services for all homeless young people. For more information, see our Influencing policy section.

During the 1980s, youth homelessness reached record levels. Homelessness became a national issue, especially in urban areas like London where large numbers of rough sleepers became an increasingly visible sign of the scale of the problem.

The first UK-wide inquiry into the scale of the problem of youth homelessness was not attempted until 1995. The research found that over a quarter of a million young people across the UK had experienced homelessness that year.

The Housing Act 1996 was a major piece of legislation brought in partly to deal with the increase in homelessness experienced in the previous decade. Part VII set out in one place the homelessness and wider housing duties of local authorities, including responsibility for securing permanent accommodation for homeless people in 'priority need'.

The Homelessness Act 2002 took the important step of adding 16- to 17-year-olds, 18- to 20-year-old care leavers and vulnerable care leavers to the list of groups that local councils should regard as in priority need.

In 2003, a new system was introduced to pay for housing-related support costs for a number of vulnerable groups including homeless young people. 'Supporting People' replaced a long period of uncertainty after a 1997 court ruling that housing benefit could no longer fund care and support.

In 2007, the Labour government published a policy briefing on tackling youth homelessness, which recognised that the number of young people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in England was still too high. This included a new commitment to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming homeless and provide better support for them if they were homeless or at risk of homelessness. A new National Youth Homelessness Scheme was set up, led jointly by the Department for Communities and Local Government, Centrepoint and YMCA England.

The new Coalition government has been clear from the outset that they want to protect homelessness funding despite a difficult financial climate. In addition, the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, currently chairs a regular cross-departmental group of ministers from eight different government departments seeking to reduce homelessness.

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However, research by the homelessness umbrella organisation Homeless Link has revealed that funding for supported housing is being cut by an average of 13% across England. Funding cuts in housing benefit may have an adverse effect on youth homelessness, which may limit the effectiveness of the Ministerial Group's efforts to tackle the problem.

Centrepoint is working closely with the government to ensure that homeless young people do not lose out as a result of reforms.


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