IES research highlights a benefit system failing to support homeless young people in precarious employment

Press Releases

9 Oct 2019

A new report by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reveals that some young people in supported accommodation and in precarious employment (i.e. zero-hour contracts, agency and temporary work), experience financial difficulties caused by fluctuating benefit payments that are affected by varying hours of work.

The report, entitled Experiences of Homeless Young People in Precarious Employment, is commissioned by Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity.  The study highlights the social and financial risks that young people can encounter in this form of ‘non-standard’ work, due to a lack of guaranteed and regular hours that can also restrict their access to key benefits if income fluctuates from month to month.

The research conducted between December 2018 and March 2019 consisted of in-depth interviews of young people with experience of homelessness, and staff working in third sector organisations supporting homeless young people with issues related to employment, housing and the benefits system. 

An online survey was also completed by 50 young people with recent experiences of engaging in non-standard employment and who are currently living in Centrepoint supported accommodation or receiving support from partner organisations.

The research found that unpredictable working patterns and earnings can affect a young person’s ability to meet housing and basic living costs, with 35% of respondents reporting that their income was not enough to cover their basic needs of food, bills and travel, while 38% said their income was not enough to cover their rent.

Furthermore, the benefits and employment system are not seen to be working well in tandem, with reports of young peoples’ welfare payments being cut, in spite of their employment only being temporary or their income fluctuating month-to-month.

Survey respondents were also asked if they had experienced any issues with their benefit claim while undertaking precarious forms of work over the past two years.  Just over two-fifths of the survey sample (42%) had encountered difficulties.

The homeless young people interviewed were confused about Universal Credit’s interaction with employment and experienced a variety of problems including:

• Benefits stopping without any explanation.

• Receiving an incorrect amount of benefit because the system is not responsive to fluctuating hours. Benefit payments could reflect their previous, rather than current  circumstances.

• The amount of benefit received changing because their employer paid them irregularly, making it difficult to manage their money.

• DWP staff updating a claimant commitment because the young person had been offered precarious employment but had not actually been given any shifts yet.

The issues surrounding the interaction of non-standard employment and welfare payments had led many young people to accrue debts, mostly in terms of rent payments owed to their housing provider.

Principal report author Jonathan Buzzeo said, “Our research highlights that young people with experience or who are at risk of homelessness can find it difficult to compete for more stable employment opportunities.

“This can be compounded further by a benefits system that does not respond well to fluctuating hours and the real risk of debt accumulation due to incomes not meeting living costs.” 

Centrepoint Senior Policy & Research Manager Abi Gill said, “Young people who have experienced homelessness are often entering adulthood without the family support networks most of us benefit from, so they need to earn money to support themselves financially. Temporary or zero-hours employment can be an attractive option in this scenario, especially for those who lack formal qualifications or experience.

“But the welfare system has not kept up with the growth in this type of employment. It’s not right that young people who are trying their best to earn money and support themselves are penalised by an inflexible system that can leave them in debt and in fear of taking on work in the future.

 “Centrepoint is calling on the Government to review Universal Credit to make sure young people are not pushed into rent arrears, or deterred from working for fear of ending up in debt.”


About the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

IES is an independent, apolitical, international centre of research and consultancy in public employment, policy and HR management. It works closely with employers in all sectors, government departments, agencies, charities, professional bodies and associations. IES is a focus of knowledge and practical experience in employment and training policy, the operation of labour markets, and HR planning and development. IES is a not-for-profit organisation.

IES tweets from @EmploymtStudies

About Centrepoint

• Centrepoint is the leading charity for homeless young people aged 16-25.

• Centrepoint supports over 15,000 homeless young people a year.

• It provides accommodation-based and floating support services in London, Yorkshire, Manchester and the North East. It also runs the Centrepoint Helpline for any young person aged 16-25 who is worried about homelessness. The Helpline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and the number is: 0808 800 0661.

• Centrepoint’s work is about more than just providing a safe bed for the night; Centrepoint helps young people to turn their lives around by gaining essential life skills; tackling their physical and mental health issues and moving into education or employment.

• Through policy work, Centrepoint aims to influence public policy, campaigning on behalf of the young people it supports and homeless young people throughout the UK.

Interviews and further information

Please contact Steve O’Rourke, IES Senior Communications Officer on: +44 (0)1273 763 414 or