*Deep breath*...guarantors!!! Anyone that keeps up with my Twitter account will know the whirlwind I have been dealing with just to get what should be an oh so simple thing. By opening up this conversation, all I have seen is care leavers from all over empathising. We are in 2020, why are care leavers nationwide still struggling to get guarantors?!
For those who are unaware as to what a guarantor is, it is someone who must be earning £11,000+ a year with a good credit score. They are there as a protective layer for the landlord or estate agency so that, if you miss any rent payments, your guarantor is then liable to pay and take the brunt on their credit score – a rather substantial ask. A guarantor is required if you yourself are on a low income, have a bad credit score or are a student.
As you can imagine, almost all of us young care leavers will fit at least one of those criteria. Most young people can happily put their families down with no hassle, we don’t have that. Even if we do still have contact with family, chances are those relationships are strained or they have financial issues of their own. Getting a guarantor as a care leaver is an impossible task – and I am not exaggerating with using the word impossible, I would know myself with recent experiences.
I unfortunately landed myself in a sticky situation when I was first at college (see post the Day I Nearly Died). I think nearly dying from a suicide attempt makes for pretty good reason to drop out of college. Nevertheless, always the fighter, I am now returning to education once more. I have a college picked out with a fantastic one of it’s kind course, amazing opportunities etc. etc. Just one issue: I have to move to a town just outside of my city.
All was going great, I was super excited for this much needed fresh start and of course the chance to finally pursue my career. That was until I was told I would need a guarantor – that dreaded thing I had completely forgotten about. Suddenly, I found myself in a flurry of panic! There is not a single person in my life that I could ask something so big of. I raced to my phone to text my social worker, only for her to be as clueless as I. I tried exploring so many different avenues only to be repeatedly refused. Even after crying for help to the Twitter community and seeing so many people jumping on to support, it still led nowhere.
The closest I came to a solution was to email the chief executive for my county council and the director of children and family services. This resulted in a phone call from the service manager for looked after children and care leavers. They still could not provide me with a guarantor – and worse yet, as a college student over 21, you cannot claim Universal Credit! So there I was, guarantor-less and about to be penniless. All hope was lost. I was devastated, trying to hold myself together as much as possible, in fear that my dreams of becoming an astrophysicist were gone.
I still do not have a perfect solution...but I have something. I have the possibility of applying to council housing and with that completely negating the need for a guarantor, or to still go with private and find out if they will accept rent in advance instead (several months rent paid upfront to show you have the money to afford the property) paid by social. Social care also have a duty to assist me through education as a care leaver so they must support me financially through college.
I got a lot of advice that has landed me to the spot I am in now. Not all of it worked for me but I would like to share this as I know it could work for others. At the end of this post, I will also share some helpful numbers.
First of all, how did I get around not being paid Universal Credit? If you are going to college at age 21 or over, you are not entitled to benefits unless you are awarded PIP (personal independence payment, or in other words disability payment). Unfortunately I am still going through the process of my claim. Instead, social care will be paying me. This works by them paying the same amount as Universal Credit. They will pay your rent up to the local housing rate (£375 for me) and you will receive a weekly payment of approximately £60. This may vary between local authorities so do check that yours offers this and how much. If you get any extra income, they do not deduct any money from your payment as benefits do, so that is an upside.
Now to the guarantor issue, I’ll bullet point this list so it is easier to read. You must check that your landlord and/or estate agent accept any of the items listed below;
Some local authorities can act as a guarantor. Very very few do this but it is always worth checking as this may save you a lot of hassle! It is ultimately up to your council as to whether they want to do this. You should also check whether the landlord/estate agency will accept this as some do prefer to have an actual person as guarantor.
Rent in advance. This is what I mentioned above, some landlords/estate agencies will accept approximately 3 months rent in advance instead of a guarantor. How many months worth may vary and it is always important to check that this is accepted as not everyone does. My local authority are happy to pay this for me but do check if yours will as policies vary.
Online guarantor. There are several online websites that can act as one. You can pay either a yearly fee or spread the cost over the year (usually over 8 months). Note that you do have to pay this every year. For rent of roughly £400pcm, you are looking at £300-350 as a one off fee or approximately £50 a month for 8 months. Again, check that landlord/estate agent accepts this. I was originally going to go this route in hopes of my local authority paying for the one off fee but they refused to giving the reason that it was simply something they did not do for their care leavers. However, this may differ between local authorities. Websites where you can access these are (I found Housing Hand to be the cheapest):
Free online guarantor. I put the paid online guarantor first as this one has terms. You can only get this if you are a care leaver and at university. I did email them asking if they would extend their free service to me as a care leaver in college and they said they could not do so. You will need proof that you are a care leaver from your local authority and do check that your landlord/estate agent accept online guarantors. This is through the above mentioned ukguarantor.com
Educational institutions. Higher education providers have to support care leavers to access education and have to act as a guarantor if it is necessary. I couldn’t tell you who you’d need to contact within your educational provider to find this out and I am unsure as to whether colleges can do this – but asking cannot hurt! Do ask landlord/estate agent if this is accepted. The official government page outlining this must be done is here under ‘accommodation support’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/principles-to-guide-he-providers-on-improving-care-leavers-access-and-participation-in-he/principles-to-guide-higher-education-providers-on-improving-care-leavers-access-and-participation-in-he
If you are applying for university accommodation (as a care leaver) or council housing, you should not have to provide a guarantor whatsoever.
I hope that, if you are struggling for a guarantor, at least one of these tips have been helpful. There are options for financial support also for going into education that may help you pay for an online guarantor or rent in advance (among other things), check out the list below:
Care Leavers Foundation: grants of up to £400 to care leavers up to age 26 to help with things like household items, emergency living expenses, and education or training costs http://www.thecareleaversfoundation.org/About_Grants
Capstone Care Leavers Trust: grants of £300-£2000 to care leavers aged 17-25, for education/training costs (including laptops and travel), driving lessons, and household items www.capstonecareleaverstrust.org
The Spark Foundation: grants of up to £600 to care leavers up to age 25 for education/training, skills and interests www.sparkfoundation.org.uk
Buttle UK: grants of up to £2000 to estranged young people aged 16-20. They will support with education and employment costs, setting up home, and improving emotional and physical wellbeing www.buttleuk.org
Lawrence Atwell’s Charity: grants of up to £1,500 for young people aged 16 to 26, to take courses (up to level 3) that will help them move into employment. Funding can be given for course fees, equipment/materials, travel costs, childcare and living costs https://www.skinners.org.uk/grants-and-trusts/atwell/individuals/
The Prince’s Trust: provide up to £250 for people aged 16-30, towards course fees (up to level 3), tools or equipment https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/get-funding-train-learn
Finally to wrap this post up, points of contact for further advice! Of course your first point of call will always be your personal advisor. If this is going nowhere, a simple google search of your local authority with ‘chief executive’ or ‘director of children’s services’ will show you their contact details. I never heard back from the chief exec but quickly heard back from the director. If you are still getting nowhere or wish for outside support, try contacting these care leaver charities:
Become advice line: 0800 023 2033. I rang this number and spoke to someone really lovely called Sophie. She was actually the one who suggested online guarantors and the grants above. She sent me an email with links to all of those grants and the guarantor services (huge thanks to her for providing most of the support suggestions in this post!!). You can find their website here: https://www.becomecharity.org.uk/
Coram Voice national advocacy helpline: 0808 800 5792. Their website: https://coramvoice.org.uk/
Help at Hand advice line: 0800 528 0731. This is a service provided by the children’s commissioner. Find the website here: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/help-at-hand/
IMO, the number for this one is technically the one for Help at Hand. IMO is tied in with the children’s commissioner but has lots of great advice and articles on their website created by care leavers (you might even see my face pop up on there!). This is their website link: https://imohub.org.uk/
And that concludes my advice! I hope that this provides help to anyone else struggling with going into education and with the nightmare that is guarantors. Things that are so simple for others can be lengthy battles for those that are care experienced. It is hard and it is unfair but it is so important that you persist and that you fight. We are worth having a proper education and a ‘normal’ life.