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26 March 2017, 06:28
Changes to housing benefit will put more young people in Scotland at risk of homelessness, a Scottish cabinet minister has said.
Social Security Secretary Angela Constance said UK Government plans to remove housing support for 18-to-21-year-olds on Universal Credit unless they qualify for an exemption such as disability or childcare are "shameful''.
She announced an extension of a Scottish Government fund providing crisis and community care grants to help those who will lose support.
Ms Constance said: "It is very disappointing, yet unsurprising, that the UK Government has insisted on pushing through these shameful changes to housing benefit.
"This is hugely dismissive of the difficulties young people in Scotland face in obtaining and keeping a tenancy.
"We have been steadfast in our commitment to retain housing benefit for 18-to-21-year-olds and despite our repeated attempts to agree a solution with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and our calls for a delay, the UK Government's change in policy will clearly lead to a rise in the level of homelessness among that age group.''
She added: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring that every young person can access the support they need.
"We are working with Cosla to extend the Scottish Welfare Fund to provide a safety net to young people because we don't want to see anyone without a roof over their head. However, this is not a long-term solution and I'm determined to continue to press the UK Government to agree a way forward that is suitable for Scotland.''
Cosla Community Wellbeing spokesman Councillor Harry McGuigan said: "There's an urgent need to support the young people who won't have their rent paid under Universal Credit. It would be unacceptable for them to start their lives with rent arrears and possible evictions.''
Homelessness charity Shelter Scotland condemned the UK Government policy change and called for both governments to come to a resolution.
Adam Lang, the charity's head of communications and policy said: "We are deeply concerned by the UK government's plans to exclude some 18-to-21-year-olds from receiving housing benefit at a time when rough sleeping is on the rise and homelessness is far from fixed in Scotland.
"This is an additional barrier to housing for young people who are already struggling to find accommodation they can afford.''
A DWP spokesman said: "We want to make sure that 18-to-21-year-olds do not slip straight into a life on benefits, which is why we are helping young people get the training, skills and experience they need to move into a job and build a career.
"We know that personal circumstances will differ so we have worked closely with charities and the housing sector to develop a fair and robust set of exemptions to protect the most vulnerable young people.
"The Scottish Government has a range of new powers available to them, including the ability to support 18-to-21-year-olds, and we continue to work together on devolution that works for Scotland and the UK.''