Focus: Campaign of the week - Shelter airs plight of the sofa surfer

Indira Das-Gupta, indira.das-gupta@haynet.com

Thousands of young people are 'sofa surfing' because they don't know what their housing rights are or who to turn to for advice, a survey by Shelter has revealed.

The findings, which come from a YouGov poll commissioned by Shelter, were published on Monday to launch one of the charity's biggest-ever campaigns targeting young people.

The Know Your Rights campaign is designed to raise awareness of a new online service that provides housing advice to 16 to 25-year-olds. Government figures released earlier this year showed that the number of homeless people in this age group increased by 9 per cent in the preceding year, to a total of 10,560.

According to the poll, 42 per cent said they would not know where to go for support if they faced a problem. Another 25 per cent said their landlord had at some time entered their home without permission, and 60 per cent believed their landlord had to give them only one month's notice to leave, when in many cases they must give two.

Simon Ellery, a spokesman for Shelter, said: "We know that young people are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and that finding a secure home is one of the biggest problems they face.

"Our officers are encountering the same issues again and again, with young people housed in temporary accommodation or sofa surfing. Many of them don't seek help because they don't think they are entitled to it, so they just resign themselves to it and tell themselves 'it's not that bad'."

The charity will leave campaign postcards in student unions and bars in an attempt to reach up to 2.4 million students. The charity has also teamed up with Ucas and is sending emails to 250,000 A-level students.

One round of emails went out when students received their results last month, and another will be sent to those who go through clearing. Young people will also find the website if they run a Google search using key words connected with homelessness and housing, and there are links on websites such as Loot and Gum Tree.

There will also be a nationwide tour to target young people who are less likely to use mainstream services. Shelter staff will visit youth clubs on housing estates, further education colleges and even skate parks in 10 different UK cities, spending two days in each.

"It's the only way to reach some people who would never visit a drop-in centre," said Ellery. "We hope to reach a few people who will then spread awareness through word of mouth."

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