Review of the Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA)

Anthony Fernando
Branch Manager
Office for Youth
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Dear Mr Fernando

Re: Review of the Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA)

The Association of Childrenʼs Welfare Agencies (ACWA) thanks DEEWR for the opportunity to participate in the review of TILA and commends the Government for seeking to improve outcomes for vulnerable young people.

ACWA is the peak body representing organisations providing direct services to vulnerable children, young people and families. For a number of years, ACWA has been convening a Leaving Care Working Party (LCWP). The LCWP comprises of representatives from Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) providers and leaving care specific providers:

  1. RelationshipsAustralia,AftercareResourceCentre 2. UnitingCareBurnside
  2. Centacare
  3. WesleyDalmar
  4. CreateFoundation
  5. MarungbaiAfterCareService
  6. Stretch-A-Family
  7. CatholicCare
  8. YouthofftheStreets
  9. United Protestant Association of NSW Ltd.

The LCWP meet 3 times annually. ACWA also runs a forum annually to discuss leaving care and after care issues.

In June 2010, ACWA sent a letter to DEEWR regarding the change in guidelines for TILA. In July 2008, ACWA sent through recommendations on Leaving Care Guidelines with a relevant section dealing with TILA. These documents are attached in this email.

ACWA acknowledges the importance of TILA in supporting care leavers to transition to independence.

ACWA advocates that the pool of resources allocated towards TILA be increased to support the needs of all vulnerable young people requiring help with moving to independent living. With respect to young people exiting statutory care (care leavers) ACWA advocates that the guidelines reviewed in 2010 be reviewed again so that care leavers are able to access TILA until at least the age of 25, and that it complements the suite of services already available, including Newstart and Youth Allowance. ACWA also advocates that the criteria for TILA be flexible and responsive to the needs of vulnerable young people (as opposed to narrow item- based support).

Should you require further information, please contact Prasheela Karan, Policy Officer, on 02 9281 8822 or email prasheela@acwa.asn.au

Yours sincerely,

Sylvia Ghaly
Director of Policy and Membership

30 March 2011

Introduction

ACWAʼs comments on TILA takes into consideration three key issues related to care leavers transitioning to independent living and the type of supports that are needed to address this. In particular, ACWA believes that it is necessary to take into consideration the increasing demand for aftercare support, the specific challenges that care leavers face, and the need to provide responsive assistance that will lead to a sustained transition to independent living. In relation to the administrative aspects of TILA, ACWA is particularly concerned with the change of guidelines that now requires a young person to apply for TILA within 24 months.

The increasing demand for aftercare support

With increasing numbers of children and young people entering care, there is clearly a greater demand for aftercare support. As of 30 June 2009, 34 069 Australian children are living in out-of-home care (AIHW 2010). The number of children entering out of home care has increased by 117% since 30 June 1999 (AIHW 2010). In June 2010, ACWA sent a letter to DEEWR advocating that the pool of resources allocated towards DEEWR be increased to ensure that all eligible care leavers are able to access TILA. Of concern, non-government organisations in NSW have reported that because of lack of funds; eligible care leavers at the end of the financial year in 2010 were not able to access TILA.

Smooth transition to independence

Care leavers experience poorer educational and health outcomes in comparison with other young people that affect their transition to independence. Care leavers are affected by trauma stemming from a challenging childhood that exacerbates their vulnerability to homelessness and other factors including mental illness. Clearly, a sustained transition to independent living will take longer than the 24 months that care leavers have to apply for TILA.

The need to support a sustained transition to independence

Another key consideration is the national trend that young people in the general population tend to stay at home longer, enjoying the emotional and financial support of their family and social networks. ACWA believes that all care leavers, both in statutory and informal care, deserve the same support. Importantly, ACWA advocates that young people should be supported to remain in care until the age of 25, in line with social norms. However, as this option is currently not available to young people, ACWA believes that a range of in-care, transitional and post-care assistance should be provided to young people at least until the age of 25 to support a transition to independence that can be sustained.

Administrative aspects of TILA

ACWA would like to highlight several issues that have also been raised by NGOs in relation to the administrative aspects of TILA:

  1. The need for equitable access to TILA
  2. Change in guidelines requiring care leavers to now apply for TILA within 24 months of leaving care
  3. The need for support that is responsive to a young personʼs circumstances

1. The need for equitable access to TILA

There are various issues that challenge young people from accessing TILA equitably:

  • Of concern, non-government organisations in NSW have reported that because of lack of funds; eligible care leavers at the end of the financial year in 2010 were not able to access TILA.
  • NGOs have reported the lack of consistency with applications being approved, meaning that access to TILA is inequitable.
  • A key issue related to TILA is that some young people who have exited care, juvenile justice and support accommodation assistance are not informed that they are eligible to apply for TILA.
  • Young people who work and are homeless are unable to access TILA.
  • NGOs have raised that young people in informal care without access to “referral organisations” lobbying on their behalf would be unable to benefit from TILA

Recommendation: ACWA advocates for more consistency and equitability with access to TILA and that the pool of resources be increased to assist each young person requiring TILA.

2. Change in guidelines requiring care leavers to now apply for TILA within 24 months of leaving care

In a letter to DEEWR in June 2010, ACWA voiced its concern over the change in guidelines, which now require young people leaving formal care to apply for TILA within 24 months.

  • Young people may leave stable placements in order to access TILA, as formal care ends at the age of 18, which means that young people must apply by the age of 20 (within 24 months of exiting care).
  • NGOs have reported that many young people are still accessing supported accommodation assistance services, living with friends or family and couch surfing two years after they have left care.
  • In NSW, young people turning 18 who are completing their High School Certificate may be eligible to remain in care for a longer period until they complete their studies.
    • ACWA is concerned that the change in guidelines may result in young people choosing to leave care at the age of 18 when care formally ends rather than finishing their studies
  • In relation to the change in guidelines, ACWA is concerned that the community sector was not consulted in this process.
    • In addition, it appears that there has been inadequate communication with the sector over the change in guidelines. NGOs have even recently reported that Government caseworkers are not aware of the changes and as a result, some young people who were not advised about the change in guidelines have been excluded from accessing much-needed support.

Recommendation: ACWA advocates that care leavers should be provided with the opportunity to access TILA at least until the age of 25. In the meanwhile, young people who were not advised about the change of guidelines should be exempted from the current two-year post care eligibility period.

3. The need for flexible support that is responsive

ACWA advocates that the criteria for accessing support under TILA be responsive to the specific needs and circumstances of each young person leaving care. Care leavers experience a range of issues including homelessness and couchsurfing and deserve better support to transition to independent living. NGOs have raised a number of issues that challenge young people from accessing responsive support. These issues include:

  • TILA is narrow and item-based. In particular, agencies have commented that in the past, TILA could be used to pay for bond and debts. Agencies stated that this type of support was useful for care leavers, and question the change in criteria.
  • Young people needing support with setting up and furnishing their accommodation that receive Newstart and Youth Allowance are not eligible to receive TILA.
    • Young people who would normally require TILA to set up and maintain their accommodation are particularly affected. Lengthy appeals processes mean that young people are forced to live in unfurnished properties and without any guarantee that the appeal will be in their favour
    • Clients who, for cultural reasons and family income, have stayed at home until 21 (and are then requested to leave) are placed on Newstart and are therefore not eligible for TILA
    • Similarly, refugees arriving as young people with no supports are not eligible for TILA as they are usually placed on Newstart
    • TILA needs to be more responsive to a young personʼs needs by reducing processing time for applications. NGOs report that many young people are homeless when they are referred to the service and have the pressure of paying rent in order to hold onto property that they could potentially reside in. As the application for TILA takes a long time to process, often the young person is unable to hold onto the property.

Recommendation: ACWA believes that the criteria for support available under TILA be flexible and responsive to the needs of vulnerable young people

Conclusion

ACWA advocates that the pool of resources allocated to TILA be increased to meet the needs of vulnerable young people requiring help with moving to independent living. Care leavers face a particular set of vulnerabilities that affect a smooth and sustained transition to independence. ACWA advocates for responsive and equitable support and that care leavers should be able to access TILA as least until the age of 25.

References

1. National Child Protection Clearing house 2010 National Child Protection
Clearinghouse Resource Sheet 2010 http://www.aifs.gov.au/nch/pubs/sheets/rs8/rs8.html