The help a care leaver is entitled to depends on for how long they were a ‘looked-after’ child, and the age at which they were ‘looked-after’. Children’s services’ duties may include providing assistance with finding somewhere to live, a personal adviser and a pathway plan.
See Gov.uk - leaving foster or local authority care for more information.
Although all ‘eligible’, ‘relevant’ and ‘former relevant’ children must be provided with a pathway plan by their local authority, different local authorities will provide different solutions for care leavers depending on different local resources and policies.
The help available for care leavers depend on at what age and for how long they were ‘looked-after’. This page concerns the entitlements of ‘relevant’ and ‘former relevant’ children, who are entitled to the most help.
See local authority duties to care leavers for more information on what these and other terms below mean.
Local authority duties under the Children Act 1989, introduced by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, are to:
Children’s services will be responsible for care leavers until they turn 18. At 18, a personal adviser should be appointed to support them. The personal adviser can provide support until the care leaver turns 21, or 25 if the care leaver requests this or is in further education or training.
A care leaver’s personal adviser can help the young person keep to their pathway plan, help the care leaver access services, and provide advice and support.
Access to full information about available services and support will be vital if the young person is to make the successful transition to independence. Local authorities can make this information available in a wide variety of formats, but online access will be especially important for young people.
Many young care leavers will choose to leave care at the age of 16. However, they can choose to stay in care until they turn 18, if they do not feel ready to leave. They can also choose to return to their family home. If they do decide to live independently, their choices around this should form part of their pathway plan.
Accommodation provided for young care leavers must be suitable.
Personal advisers should should stay in contact with young care leavers to provide ongoing support and help, and to assist with any issues over accommodation.
For more information, see Accommodation options for care leavers.
If the local authority arranges accommodation for a care leaver, it must keep in touch and continue to support the young person. Under the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010, the care leaver’s personal adviser must visit the care leaver at that accommodation within seven days of it being provided, and review the care leaver’s pathway plan after the care leaver has lived in their new home for 28 days, and regularly (at least every three months) after that. The personal adviser should also visit regularly.
Children’s services will be responsible for accommodation and maintenance costs for 16 and 17 year old care leavers (who choose to remain in contact with their local authority - this will not be the case for all young care leavers). Prior to leaving care, a young person will be encouraged to learn about budgeting and saving, and to be increasingly financially autonomous. Except in exceptional circumstances, it will be expected that a 16 or 17 year old care leaver will retain control over their personal allowance.
16 and 17 year old care leavers living in a supported or semi/independent setting will receive a weekly allowance equivalent to benefits rates for other young people. This allowance will be continue to be paid regardless of any other income the young person has, such as a further education grant, training allowance or wages from employment.
If young people live in supported accommodation, where their utilities and some food are provided, deductions will be made to cover these costs. Additional allowances will also be paid to cover birthdays and Christmas (or other appropriate festival for a young person of a different faith/cultural background). An allowance may also be payable to help towards the cost of setting up home to cover, for example, a television license and contents insurance. Where young people are attending college, training or work, or interviews for these, bus fares or travel costs. Public transport fares can also be paid to help young people maintain or build family links.
Young care leavers may also be eligible for a setting up home allowance (leaving care grant) from their local authority. See Gov.uk - Leaving foster or local authority care for more information
Special benefit rules apply to care leavers. To calculate entitlement, use the calculator on the Entitled to website.
Care leavers aged 18, 19, or 20 are exempt from the shared-room rate for local housing allowance. See Benefits and financial support for young people.
Many local authorities and their commissioned partners will have dedicated teams/workers to assist young care leavers with the transition from care to independence.
Care leavers can continue to receive the support until they are 25, or at the age they complete their further education or training if this is later.
Looked-after young people and care leavers should get a guaranteed bursary from the 16-19 Bursary scheme if they stay in full-time education, or a Higher Education Bursary if they are an eligible care leaver going on to university or higher education.
If a care leaver is in education or training at the age of 21, their leaving care support continues until the education or training course (which should be agreed in the pathway plan) is completed.
Support services for care leavers who are not in education or training at the age of 21 can continue until they turn 25, but the care leaver will need to request this extension. The young person should discuss with their personal adviser other sources of support they may be entitled to.
Housing and homelessness
Homeless former care leavers aged between 18 and 21 (or 25 if they are still in full-time education) who were in care or fostered between the ages of 16 and 18 will be considered to be in priority need if they make a homelessness application. Care leavers over 21 may also be considered to be in priority need if they are assessed to be vulnerable. See Homeless applications to the local authority for more information.
Young care leavers who choose not to be accommodated by children’s services and do not keep in touch with their key workers are nevertheless still owed financial and other support.
Statutory ‘Transitions’ guidance to the Children Act 1989 expects that, prior to leaving care, a young person should be helped to set up a bank account, so that payment owed by children’s services can be paid directly to them. See Gov.uk - The Children Act 1989 guidance: transition to adulthood for care leavers.
Young care leavers who wish to make their own accommodation arrangements can also ask children’s services to provide a deposit for a tenancy/licence, or take other
steps to help them sort out appropriate accommodation. The young care leaver does not need to participate in the pathway plan in order to receive help.