1. Mr Dunkley introduced the report and, with Ms Hammond and Ms Smith, responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) the establishment of a guarantor scheme was welcomed as it placed the County Council as a corporate parent in the same position as a natural parent in supporting a young person into independent accommodation;
b) more detail of the pilot scheme was requested and it was agreed that an overview of it be included on the agenda for the Panel’s 1 June meeting;
c) the guarantor scheme would be offered to young people who were sufficiently mature and ready to take on the responsibility of independent accommodation but would benefit from having a financial safety net. The presence of the guarantor scheme would not mean that anyone considered unready to take this step would be helped into it if it were not the right thing for them. Focussing on the suitability of young people would help the County Council to manage and minimise the risk element of the scheme;
d) a pilot guarantor scheme had been run successfully by Devon County Council for one year, starting with a small cohort of young people, renting mainly private sector and university accommodation, and then opening up to include all care leavers. The overview report of the Kent pilot scheme would include an example of application and other paperwork and assessment criteria used in Devon, and a report of the findings from their pilot scheme;
e) the development of the guarantor scheme had highlighted the issue of local authorities using their own housing stock to accommodate care leavers. Some local authorities exempted care leavers from paying council tax. Both of these issues could be investigated with housing partners in district councils;
f) it was pointed out that care leavers continuing in full time education were exempted from paying council tax, while those in apprenticeships were not. This disparity should be addressed;
g) asked about the potential costs of the scheme, if young people were to default on payments and require the County Council to cover their costs, and how anyone defaulting would continue to be supported, Mr Dunkley explained that, if a young person were not taking up a private rental and needing a guarantor, the County Council would need to pay to accommodate them in some other type of housing, at greater cost. Ms Hammond added that the guarantor scheme could benefit both the local authority and the young person. She offered to supply some estimated figures on the potential for defaulters and the likely costs;
h) foster carers on the Panel confirmed that they had received training in helping young people to prepare for adulthood and access independent accommodation. This included a booklet on transition, of which all foster carers should be aware, as a resource. The advent of the guarantor scheme offered a way of supporting young people which was simply not possible for a foster carer to take on individually; and
i) Mr Dunkley was thanked for revisiting the challenge and persevering with the concept of a local authority guarantor.
2. It was RESOLVED that:-
a) the challenge card progress to date, and the implications for the County Council acting as a guarantor, be noted; and
b) the County Council acting as a guarantor for care leavers, with a proposal to undertake a pilot scheme to inform a wider policy change, be supported in principal.