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For young people, the transition to independent living is one of the most important – and probably exciting, difficult and emotionally charged – decisions they will ever make. For most, it means severing their links with parents, home and much that they have been familiar with all their lives. For a minority, it may represent a break from a fraught family situation of which domestic violence or abuse was part and parcel. Whatever the context, it requires a process of searching for, establishing and maintaining a new home and, in many cases, doing this in parallel with seeking employment or undertaking tertiary studies for the first time.

The growth in youth homelessness in recent decades is in part a reflection of the difficulties of some young people in making the transition to independent living, whether because of inadequate skills and associated lack of support, the constraints of the housing system, lack of income or combinations of all these. Yet the vast bulk of young people do not become homeless and make a successful transition to an independent housing situation, often, however, with considerable adjustment along the line.

This study is about young people's housing choices and the role of Rent Assistance (RA) in these choices. It has two broad objectives: to provide greater knowledge about the housing decision making and arrangements of young people, and to examine the role of RA – for those who are eligible – in improving their housing situation, as well as education and employment outcomes.

The latter has two components: an assessment of RA in the context of the changed eligibility criteria brought about by the introduction of the Youth Allowance (YA) in 1998, and a broader assessment of RA’s role in shaping recipients’ perceptions of the accommodation and life choices open to them. It explores the influence of RA on: • Young people’s preferences and decisions about housing and living arrangements; • Young people’s decision making about education, and the role of housing in this decision; • Students’ choice of course and study institution and the effects, if any, of housing.

Since impact on decision making relies on an awareness of the payment – even if this awareness is grounded in misunderstanding – the study also sought to gauge customers’ recognition of RA as a separate component of their YA payment. In effect, the research is a form of program evaluation examining the effectiveness of RA. The report is based on a survey of young people in receipt of RA, undertaken for the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS), supplemented by unit record data of the 1996 and 1991 census. It is structured into seven chapters: • Chapter 1 provides an overview of the policy context and a brief literature review; • Chapter 2 gives an overview of the methodology and the approach adopted to address the study objectives; • Chapter 3 provides a snapshot of the housing situation of young people; • Chapter 4 looks at respondents’ awareness and perceptions of RA; • Chapter 5 explores the ways in which access to RA influences young people’s choices about housing and living arrangements; • Chapter 6 aims to establish whether and to what extent access to RA enters into young people’s decision making about whether or not to study; • Chapter 7 summarises the policy implications.

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