From the age of 12, Lisa sofa surfed, bounced between family members, crashed at friends’ houses and even travelled around on the night bus. Her local authority had no idea where or with whom she was living (“all they knew was that I was living… somewhere”). Essentially she was homeless.
After three years of living out of a bag Lisa wrote to her local authority to explain her situation but in all honesty didn’t expect to get a response. To her surprise, the council did reply and offered her a place in a hostel and, because she was still in full-time education, put her onto income support.
The next upheaval came when Lisa began an apprenticeship with her local council. As she hadn’t been in contact with social services for a while, she didn’t get any financial support to help her transition into employment; in fact, she wasn’t even aware she could access any help. Because of how payday fell Lisa only received two weeks’ pay after her first month in the role. This had to last until she received her full pay check the following month.
She quickly got into arrears with her rent and had a hard time covering her daily expenses. Luckily she had continued with her weekend job: “I was on £10,000 a year and my hostel cost me just under £500 a month with housing benefit paying the remaining £300. It was thanks to the job I had at a shopping centre that was able to afford my travel and lunch and so on.”
When her apprenticeship finished after a year, Lisa got a part time job but lost her accommodation; the hostel she had been living in was being closed down.
Social services got involved and provided her with a temporary accommodation but this was quite some distance from the Job Centre she was required to attend order to receive JSA. The journey was long and expensive and when Lisa arrived late for one of her fortnightly appointments, she was sanctioned. Refusing to be deterred by this set-back, Lisa continued her search for work and landed a permanent job.
With the support of an advocacy charity, who provide her with a solicitor, Lisa fought her case against the council and finally, at the age of 18, was classified as a care leaver. This new status enabled her to bid on a council flat (she was successful) and to receive support from social services.
A year or so later Lisa got a new job in customer services on a zero-hours contract, at which point the council reassessed her status to establish what her contribution towards her rent should be. This process dragged on and still hadn’t been resolved when she changed jobs again; taking an apprenticeship in the public sector. When she got her first pay check, she duly put money on her rent card, despite not knowing how much she was supposed to pay.
“The public sector job really opened my eyes. I didn’t know what I was entitled to and had it not been for the advocacy charity I would have never been classified as a care leaver and I would probably never have been able to bid for my flat.”
“I received my first Council Tax letter when I was 16 but it didn’t have my name, just my address. I had just moved and it was like £800. I looked at it and thought ‘What is that? That can’t be for me!’ and threw it away. Of course they kept sending letters, but as it turned out, the council was supposed to pay for it all along.”
“I can’t wait to finally turn 21 and have my case file closed. Social services have never done me any good in terms of advising me what to do or helping me overcome hard times. I always tried to figure things out by myself.”
Lisa’s persistence and hard work have paid off in the end. She loves her job and feels comfortable in her flat, which she has every intention of buying in the future. “For the first time in my life I have a sense of stability. Work is good and I know where I’m going to stay every night.”
Lisa’s story demonstrates the need for our new Close the Gap fund which provides interim financial support to help care leavers transition from benefits into work. You can help young people like Lisa by making a donation to the fund.