The Woman Fighting for Care Leavers' Right to Housing

If you've been raised in the care system, it can be almost impossible to find a guarantor for a rental property. Mary-anne Hodd is changing that.
Mary-anne Hodd
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Presented in partnership with Shelter.

Mary-anne Hodd had done everything the care system had asked of her. She'd gone to university, was getting good grades and was going to study to be a teacher. But when she needed help moving into a shared house with friends in her hometown after graduating in 2015, she came into one big problem. She was deep into the tenancy application process when she realised she'd need a guarantor. There was no one to step up, including the local authority, her "corporate parents".


"I went down this route of scrambling – it's really embarrassing looking back on it - of asking anybody who could help," says Hodd, 27, who spent nine years of her life in the care of foster parents in Devon before leaving for Bristol to study. "I contacted long lost family members, my friends' parents, and just went around to everybody, like, 'Somebody be my guarantor. I can't live here otherwise. I can't live with my friends otherwise.'"

There were two options: move into supported accommodation – essentially a shared house with other care leavers – or apply for a council house, which could mean spending time in a hostel while waiting for a place to come up. The latter could have led to Hodd packing up her entire life, because finding a hostel in her hometown was unlikely, meaning she'd have to move to a city where a space was available.

"It felt like my whole life was being upturned," says Hodd, who now works with support organisations to help them improve outcomes for young people in care. "It felt like I'd done everything and then the computer said, 'No. No, we don't expect you to go into a private rental; we don't expect you to achieve that much.' I felt really angry and let down."

Thousands of young people leave care each year, and many – like Hodd – report problems when trying to access housing. Become, a charity for children in care and care leavers, says housing difficulties are among the most common issues it supports young people with on its advice line.


Sam Turner, Become's policy and participation manager, says care leavers are often passed between children's and housing services teams or across local authorities. Most worryingly, he speaks of the impact of “cliff edges” of support that leave problems to brew and emerge when care leavers are in their early twenties. "We tend to find that homelessness arises most often for care leavers when they get poor housing advice and are pushed into taking on something that is unaffordable or becomes unaffordable for them quite quickly," he says.

More than one in four young care leavers have sofa surfed, and 14 percent have slept rough, according to 2017 research by Centrepoint. During the pandemic, the youth homelessness charity supported more care leavers than in the previous year, an increase of eight percentage points on 2019-20. And more than 7,000 care leavers' households were either homeless or threatened with homelessness in England in 2020-21, according to the most recent government data.

Balbir Chatrik, Centrepoint's director of policy, says a stable and secure home is "out of reach" for too many care leavers, leaving some to "fall through the cracks" into homelessness. "Over the past year, our helpline has seen more calls than the previous year from care leavers living in precarious housing situations and finding themselves stuck at a dead end with nowhere left to turn. In order for these young people to be able to move on with their lives, the government needs to maintain a thorough and structured move-on process, provide more suitable and affordable housing, access to ongoing support and a benefits system that is strong enough to meet the real costs of living."


No one leaving care should face homelessness. Those under 21 automatically have a priority need for housing, and the same applies to over-21s "who are vulnerable as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered".

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: "The housing emergency is putting young care leavers at risk of homelessness because of the huge barriers they face in finding a safe home – including low housing benefit rates, the need to provide tenancy deposits, and of course the chronic shortage of secure social homes. But despite these challenges, it is important for those leaving the care system to know councils have a legal duty to provide them with accommodation if they have nowhere to go."

Avoiding homelessness in all its forms is not always straightforward. Hodd is mentoring an 18-year-old care leaver who was on the brink of registering as homeless, and the reason is far from clear cut. The teenager was placed in care more than 150 miles away from her hometown, and has built a life, community and career for herself with her foster parents. 

The problem is that she needs a guarantor to rent privately and can only secure local authority housing in her original area, a place that holds traumatic memories and is a three-hour train journey from her support network and job. "Her only option was to register as homeless [in her current area], which will then give her priority need," Hodd says. "What does this say to young people who've worked hard to overcome their trauma?"


There is a solution to the problems care leavers face when trying to move into independent rented accommodation, Hodd says. The idea came to her when she was struggling with the issue in 2015. She was volunteering for the council when an MP put the situation into perspective for her. "He said to me, 'We're your corporate parents, we should be doing everything for you that your parents could or would have if they were in a position to do so.' That was it: the lightbulb went off," she says.

The MP was right. Local authorities have a duty to seek the best outcomes for those in their care and prepare them for independent living, just like any other parent. That means, says Hodd, they should act as guarantors for those in their care.

The lightbulb moment became the Guarantor Scheme, which Hodd developed to help young people who are leaving care. This relies on a local authority adopting the scheme and becoming a guarantor for the people in their care, which Devon County Council – Hodd's local authority – has done, allowing her to go ahead with her plans to move in with friends after graduating.

The obvious next move was getting the programme rolled out across the England. Kent County Council implemented it two years later, and several other councils are in talks with Hodd. Between Devon and Kent, the scheme has helped more than 100 care leavers move into independent rented housing. Of those young people, only two have defaulted on rent payments, and that was because they were made redundant during the pandemic.


Hodd's mentee was also eventually able to move into a place near her support network after her local authority agreed to act as her guarantor as part of the programme. It took "many relentless emails", she says, "but we got there".

The importance of having a space of your own that is safe and comfortable can never be underestimated. For care leavers, it can take on a whole new meaning. "Having a home can prevent so [many problems]," Hodd says. "That somebody helped you to get there says, 'Look, we believe in you enough to put a roof over your head, and you deserve this.'"

Neate of Shelter said: "We would encourage anyone who is worried about homelessness to seek independent advice and find out what their options are. Shelter's services are free and open 365 days a year to provide expert help and support – please visit to find out more.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Making sure care leavers get the support they need to transition to independence is vital, and councils work hard to prepare young people before they leave care, for example by providing finance training and trialling living in ‘taster flats’.

“Government initiatives to support care leavers – such as ‘staying put’, which allows young people to live with their foster carers beyond 18 and the extension of personal adviser support up to the age of 25 – are helpful, but despite concerns from councils and the wider children’s sector, continue to be significantly under-funded.


“A lack of suitable affordable accommodation also poses a further challenge to care leavers, which councils want to work with government to tackle, to ensure young people receive all the support they need so that they can confidently transition into adult life.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to levelling up outcomes for all vulnerable young people, including those leaving care. This includes providing over £33 million for councils to help young people remain with their foster carers, and are providing devices to care leavers to stay in touch with their support networks and personal advisors after leaving care.  

“Beyond this, we’re spending £750 million this year as part of our commitment to end rough sleeping this Parliament – and this includes intensive support targeted towards care leavers most at risk of homelessness.”

A spokesperson for Devon County Council said: "We do all we can to support children and young people in our care, and those who have left our care. That includes a range of things to help them live independently, including support to help them secure rented accommodation, by acting as guarantor. We’ve used this scheme since 2018 and it’s proved vital to how our young people are enabled to access suitable accommodation in a challenging environment. In Devon we are passionate about achieving the right support for our young people transitioning into adulthood and independence and we are continuously working to improve what we can offer.”