Care leavers in West Sussex could be exempt from council tax up to the age of 25 as part of proposals being considered.
West Sussex county councillors agreed that Stephen Hillier, cabinet member for children and young people, would work with the district and borough councils to explore options for relieving the council tax burden on care leavers up to 21 or 25.
The original motion was proposed by Morwen Millson (LDem, Horsham Riverside) to ensure the transition from care to adult life is as smooth as possible and mitigate the chances of care leavers falling into debt as they begin to manage their own finances.
An amended version proposed by Mr Hillier, stating that tackling the limited supply of housing and barriers to employment for care leavers would take priority, was approved on Friday June 8.
The amended motion asked WSCC’s Corporate Parenting Panel to monitor the outcome of the exploratory work before the end of 2018 and report its conclusions to the cabinet mmeber.
Francis Oppler (LDem, Bognor Regis East), who introduced the motion in Mrs Millson’s absence, described how care leavers were no different from other young people in respect to managing the daunting and transition to adulthood, but on top of that they have had to face abuse, separation or rejection from their birth families.
Mr Hilier (Con, Haywards Heath East) said he was open to setting the exemption for those who wanted to take it up to 25 rather than 21, but the council’s finances are ‘incredibly tight’.
He described how care leavers between the age of 18 and 21 were the most vulnerable in all areas and particularly in managing their finances.
But he also noted some care leavers want the right to be forgotten and do not want any special treatment.
He argued that ensuring care leavers had access to decent accommodation and employment opportunities were ‘higher up the priority list’.
Mr Oppler, a foster carer himself, responded: “We need to be pushing this forward, taking the hand brake off and putting the accelerator down.”
Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) said: “Anything we can do to help people coming out of care now is a big investment for the future.”
Michael Cloake (Con, Worthing Pier), also a foster carer, added: “Anything we can do to make their lives easier has got to be a good thing.”
Concluding the debate Mr Hillier said: “We will do the best for our care leavers. When we look at the measures around our care leavers’ services we are already one of the better services in the country. We aspire to and we will get better.
“My amendments are not intended to kick this into the long grass it’s to make it a realistic proposition and to make sure the Corporate Parenting Panel have the ability and mechanisms to bring recommendations back to this council.”