Care leavers in Lambeth will soon be exempt from council tax until the age of 25 under the council’s new budget.
Lambeth will become the 60th local authority, and the 14th in London, to adopt an exemption under a plan proposed by The Children’s Society.
The policy will give care leavers an increased level of support following research which found council tax debts rank amongst the biggest financial struggles faced by care leavers transitioning into adulthood.
Lucy Capron, public affairs manager at The Children’s Society, said: “The council is the parent of these young people, they are known as the corporate parent.
“So, the irony of a council sending round bailiffs to technically their own children to chase debt that’s owed to them was something we thought councils should take a look at.”
She added: “For a lot of councils it’s been something they were surprised by when we brought it to their attention.
“We’ve had some councils that have looked back at their care leavers that are in debt, with one council finding 77% of the care leavers they supported were behind on [council tax] payments.”
The charity’s 2016 report, The Damage of Debt, identified a worrying correlation between financial struggles and poor mental health, with young people in families facing debt found to be five times more likely to have lower levels of wellbeing than their debt-free peers.
For care leavers, the emotional strain can be far greater.
“Whilst parents might try to shield children from the fact that they’re struggling [financially], care leavers are in a more amplified position because they’re a young person transitioning into that life sometimes by themselves,” said Ms Capron.
Aaron, a young care leaver living in London, has experienced the struggles of council tax debt first hand.
He said: “I’ve been fined in the past for non-payment of council tax which was recently overturned because I said why it was unfair that I was getting fined for generally not knowing what to do.
“It was overturned by the council which was excellent but it’s still a lot of money, I had to pay the existing council tax bill all at once.
“It was a difficult experience when I got fined for council tax. It was draining, I had to go into court and it was scary and I was worried about money for quite a while.”
In areas which have already implemented the exemption, the benefits are clear.
Aaron said: “Tax exemption will help a lot of young people become more financially stable which helps things from getting back into work because you feel more stable, helping your mental health because you’re not strained all the time and worried about your next bill or red letter coming through the door. It generally just gives that extra little helping hand.”
The exemption will be implemented in Lambeth as part of the council’s Care Leavers Relief Scheme (CLRS) and will reach approximately 570 care leavers.
Lambeth Council leader Cllr Lib Peck said: “We want to do everything we can to ensure our children leaving care have the best possible start to their adult lives.
“We hope this move will make it easier for care leavers to manage their own financial affairs for the first time, and it is part of our wider support to help them become more independent.”
Featured image courtesy of Images Money via Flickr with thanks