Practical Living Skills

The experience of leaving care and starting life as an adult is different for everyone. Here you will find some useful advice and resources to help prepare you for living independently. 

This is a guide to highlight some of the things you are probably already thinking about and provide tips on where you can get more information and support if needed. It’s a guide to what’s out there and we will be making sure that we keep it updated. If you think we have missed anything out, let us know! 

Have a browse through the different sections to see all the areas that are covered which include managing your money and budgeting, options for housing and accommodation and practical tips and advice on living independently. 

Managing your money and budgeting

In this section we cover how to open and manage your bank account, claiming benefits, keeping a track of what you spend, understanding your bills and tips on saving money on paying for energy and getting a credit score. Just click on a heading to find out more.

A budget is a way of keeping track of how much money you have coming in every week or month and how much money you are spending every week or month. Budgeting is not always the most exciting thing to do, but it is a really important way of ensuring that you manage your money without getting into debt. This will reduce the stress and pressure that you may feel if you get into debt. 

How do I choose a bank account?

You should have a bank account by the age of 16. This helps when you get allowances and keeps your money safe. If you haven’t got a bank account, your worker can help you set one up and provide ID or proof of address.

A current account that you can pay into easily and withdraw money when you want is a good place to start.

16+ top tips on banks accounts
16-19 accounts are a good place to start for a first account.

Try to get an account that has no overdraft facility so you can only spend money you have and not get into debt

16+ Service can provide you a letter as one of your pieces of ID that the bank will accept, as long as it is printed on headed paper and has an original signature.

The Citizens Advice has some great advice about:
Opening a bank account

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/banking/getting-a-bank-account/

Credit cards, pro and cons

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/borrowing-money/credit-cards/

Understanding your bank card

Click on this link to find out more https://www.thebalance.com/parts-of-a-debit-or-credit-card-front-and-back-315489

Your bank statement

A bank statement is an official summary of the money you have put and taken out of your account. Most people now access their statements online. You can receive a paper copy if you request it.

It’s really important to look at your bank statement to keep track of what you are spending and to make sure that you don’t go overdrawn and accidentally incur bank charges.

Using an ATM

ATM is the abbreviation often used for the card machine or ‘hole in the wall’ where you can withdraw your cash. 

Click on the link below to watch a video on how to use an ATM machine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxp9SQyykR0

Paying your bills

If you are living independently you are responsible for paying your bills for your rent and water, gas and electricity. (see sections below)

You will also need to ensure that you have a TV licence. Don’t avoid getting one as you could be fined up to £1000. There are a number of ways to pay for a licence, click on this link for more information

https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/pay-for-your-tv-licence/ways-to-pay

You are also responsible for paying council tax. As a care leaver you are exempt (you do not have to pay) council tax until you are 25 years old. It is worth considering how this will affect your budget when you reach 25.

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/council-tax/get-money-off-your-council-tax/money-off-council-tax-for-care-leavers/

You will also have to pay for internet access and for your phone. Take some time to find out the best deals that are available.

Reading and understanding your utility bills

What is a utility bill?

Utilities are the basic services you need to keep your home comfortable. The most common are for electricity, gas and water. When you have your own place you are responsible for paying for all of your utilities.

There are three things to check your bills for:

1. That you’re being billed for and paying the right amount.

2. That you’re not building up any debt.

3. If there’s a cheaper way of paying (your bill will show this).

Electricity and gas bills can look very similar, and if you have the same supplier for both, you may only get one. Not all bills look the same, but most include rates, meter reading totals, and graphs to show how much electricity or gas you have used. These graphs can be helpful when trying to understand increases or decreases in your bill. If you ever have questions regarding your bill, don’t hesitate to call your provider.

This is a useful video that explains how to read your gas or electricity bill

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCOr50j-wjE

This is a useful link that explains how to understand utility bills from different providers

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/understanding-energy-bills/

Always check to make sure you are on the best deal on your energy bills. The Citizens Advice Bureau have a useful tool on their website to help you compare prices from different energy suppliers

https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/

The Community Energy Trust have lots of advice on how to reduce your energy bills

https://www.cep.org.uk/information/reduce-your-energy-bills/

Reading your meters

Your supplier needs regular readings from your gas or electricity meter to work out your bills. If you don’t send them readings, they’ll estimate how much gas and electricity you have used. This means your bill might be too high or low.

Call your supplier to give them the readings – or check if you can submit one on their website or app.

What kind of meter do I have?

Traditional (non-smart) meters

Everybody had meters like this until a few years ago when smart meters began being installed.

If your meter hasn’t been changed since before 2017, and either has dials or an analogue meter display with 4-6 black and white (and some red) numbers, you have a traditional meter.

Click on this link to take you to a webpage that explains how to read different types of meter

https://octopus.energy/blog/how-to-read-your-meter/#analoguemeter

Smart meters

There are two different kinds of smart meters – SMETS1, the earlier version, and SMETS2, the latest version. To be 100% sure which kind of meter you have, the best way to find out exactly which type (and brand) of smart meter you have is to contact the energy supplier that installed it.

The webpage for your energy supplier will explain how to read your Smart meter or click this link for a general guide on Smart meters

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/your-energy-meter/how-to-read-your-smart-electricity-meter/

What is a credit rating or score?

A very poor credit history can affect your ability to get things like mobile phone contracts or insurance.

A credit score is the score that a credit provider will use to help them decide who to lend money to. Your credit rating might also influence the rate of interest you will pay and the amount you can borrow. In the UK, companies called ‘credit reference agencies’ (CRAs) compile information on how well you manage credit and make your payments.

How to get a credit rating

If your name isn’t on the electoral register, add it as soon as you can. Being registered to vote in the UK means lenders can check that you live where you say you do, so it’s important to register. You can register to vote using the link below

https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/voter

Opening and managing a current account responsibly will help your credit rating.

Set up some regular Direct Debit payments to pay bills such as your gas and electricity or your home insurance or mobile phone. Always make sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay any bills being paid by Direct Debit or standing order.

It’s important to make sure you pay all your bills on time, as a missed or late payment will count against you.

Adding evidence of keeping up with rent payments helps people build a credit history 

If you’re thinking of having a joint credit agreement (such as a loan or mortgage) with someone else, their credit rating might affect yours. For example, if they fail to make repayments on credit cards or other loans, it might make your credit rating worse. That’s why it’s important to end financial links with friends or ex-partners with whom you have taken out loans by closing any joint accounts you still have and then contacting the credit reference agency to ask for a ‘notice of disassociation’ to stop your credit files from being linked.

Regularly checking your credit report can help you see which direction your score is going and identify any incorrect information. By law, all CRAs have to provide you with a copy of your credit report for free.

There is more information available here

https://www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en/everyday-money/credit-and-purchases/how-to-improve-your-credit-score

Practical tips for saving money

Make a budget!!

Think about the bills you need to pay. Bills you might need to budget for:

  • gas / electric – you might get a combined bill or 2 separate bills, depending on how it’s set up.
  • council tax 
  • TV licence 
  • internet / phone / TV – most of the time you’ll have a ‘package’ with all 3 together in one bill.
  • home contents insurance
  • water 
  • rent.

Tips on supermarket shopping that can save you money

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/cheap-supermarket-shopping/#

Plan and cook your own meals – save takeaways for a treat. Here are 20 tips to eat well for less

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/20-tips-to-eat-well-for-less/#

If you own a mobile phone on a contract, don’t go for an automatic upgrade, keep your phone and go to a sim only tariff, it can reduce your bill by up to two thirds

Reconditioned phones are good value for money and can save you hundreds of pounds

Energy-saving lightbulbs might look a bit ugly and be more expensive than traditional bulbs, but they should still benefit you in the long-term. Some sources claim they give up to 25,000 hours of light compared to 1,000 for a traditional bulb.

Think before you buy! Get into the habit of saving for things you want rather than buying them on credit

Here is a link to an online budget planner from the Princes Trust

https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/tools-resources/money-management/budget-planner

Debt

If you find yourself in debt, get help straight away – it’ll just get worse if you ignore it.

Your personal advisor can help you make sense of the debt and give you advice on where to go for help.

Here is a useful link for advice

https://www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en/money-troubles/dealing-with-debt

Becoming Independent 

How to apply for your provisional driving licence

Your PA will help you to apply either online or using a postal application using a D1 form that you can pick up at a post office. The 16+ team will pay for your licence. 

To apply you must:

Be at least 15 years and 9 months’ old

Be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away

Have legally lived in the UK for at least 185 days in total in the past 12 months

It costs £34 to apply online and £43 to apply by post

You can pay by MasterCard, Visa, Electron or Delta debit or credit card.

You’ll need:

An identity document, such as your passport

Addresses where you’ve lived for up to the last 3 years

You might be asked for additional information, such as your National Insurance number if you know it.

To find out more about applying online click on this link 

https://www.gov.uk/apply-first-provisional-driving-licence

To apply at a Post office, click this link 

https://www.postoffice.co.uk/identity/provisional-driving-licence

How to apply for a passport

Your PA will help you to apply for a passport and the !6+ service will pay for it. It costs £75.50 online and £85 by post. 

You can pick up passport application forms from your local Post Office and apply by post, or use the Post Office Check and Send Service 

https://www.gov.uk/how-the-post-office-check-and-send-service-work

You can also apply online 

https://www.gov.uk/apply-renew-passport

How to apply for your National Insurance number

Everybody is given a National Insurance Number just before their sixteenth birthday.  The number is required when working and is used to record and track the Income Tax and National Insurance paid and any benefits received.

Call HMRC 0300 200 3500 to get advice if: you’re between 15 years and 9 months and 20 years old and have not received a National Insurance number.

Your PA will help you with this.

How to join the electoral roll

If you living in settled accommodation it is really helpful to register on the electoral roll, this will enable you to vote and will also help you to improve your credit rating (see Managing your money and budgeting) 

Click on this link to find out more

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/the-council-and-democracy/elections/register-to-vote/

How to apply for a replacement birth certificate

Click on the link below 

https://www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate

What do I need to buy on my first shop?

Here’s our top 10 things to buy in your first food shop and other essentials you may need 

  1. Carbs 

Rice, Pasta and potatoes are fantastic, cheap, and nutritious which make up a pretty substantial part of every meal. They’re versatile, filling and provide the ultimate ‘brain fuel.’ Avoid expensive micro-rice and cook your own rice – you’ll save yourself a fortune and always have plenty of leftovers for the next day.

  1. A pint of Long life milk

Keep a pint or two of this in your cupboard for an emergency  eg to have with cereal when you are hungry

  1. Frozen fruit and veg

Why frozen? Although fresh fruit and veg are considered the kings of healthy eating, don’t be too quick to overlook frozen versions. Whilst they are a little pricier, they keep for a lot longer. They can be quite convenient and save you time when cooking if you’ve bought some prepared (chopped etc) varieties. An important thing to remember when buying frozen produce is that it loses little to no nutrients compared to fresh produce.

  1. Cereals

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Try to avoid the sugarier varieties, and opt for ones high in fibre, as this will keep you full for longer. Consider things like unsweetened granola or porridge oats/oatmeal. 

  1. Bread.

Freeze it on the day of purchase and you can toast straight from the freezer, to get more healthy fibre into your system, buy wholemeal or wholegrain varieties.

  1. Passata / Tinned Tomatoes

Forget expensive ready-made sauces! A jar of passata or tinned chopped tomatoes can be whizzed up in to a Chilli con carne, Curry, Soup, Spag bol, Lasagne or Casserole in no time.  

  1. Herbs & Spices

You don’t need many to begin with, a simple curry powder, mixed Italian herbs and chilli (if you like it hot!) along with stock cubes and salt & pepper is more than enough to get you started 

  1. Preserves

Peanut butter, marmite, jam or Nutella on toast are a great snack

  1. Tins

Tuna, baked beans, tinned tomatoes, soup, kidney beans are likely to be the basis of many meals

  1. Protein (Eggs/Frozen Meat/Meat substitute)

Include protein in every meal to keep you full for longer. Cheese and eggs are a great all rounders. Mince is a fantastic versatile protein to have available. Quorn can be cooked straight from frozen.

Skinless white meat such as turkey or chicken as these are considered the healthiest because of the low amount of saturated fat. If you fancy something redder, then try to choose lean cuts.

Other essentials 

Toilet paper 

Toilet cleaner 

Cleaning sprays 

Soap and toiletries 

Washing up liquid, washing up brush, dish cloths

Paper towels

Laundry detergent

Bin bags

Dustpan and brush

Cleaning cloths 

Batteries 

Cooking your own meals

Food is an important part of everyone’s lives, remember food is a fuel for your body as well as for your mind

In the future we hope to develop a Carefree Cookbook – watch this space! 

In the meantime here is a link to student recipes from Tesco, doesn’t matter if you are not a student these are really simple to make and easy to follow instructions

https://realfood.tesco.com/student-recipes.html

How to use a washing machine

Here is a useful link to do’s and don’ts when washing your clothes 

https://www.persil.com/uk/laundry/laundry-tips/washing-tips/use-washing-machine-dos-donts.html

Staying Safe in your home

Make sure that you have a smoke alarm and check it regularly to see that it works

Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector 

Get a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket and know where they are

Be aware of what to do in the event of a fire

Know where your stop cock is so that you can turn off the water in an emergency eg if you have a flood

Make sure that you have seen the gas safety certificate for your property 

Know what to do if you smell gas – ring the emergency number 0800 111999

Getting from here to there

Here is a useful to link to information on how to use public transport, eg buses and trains

https://www.expatica.com/uk/living/transportation/uk-public-transport-103419/

Here is a link to information about public transport in Cornwall

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/transport-parking-and-streets/public-transport/public-transport-information-and-advice/

Other useful links 

https://www.gocornwallbus.co.uk/

https://www.firstbus.co.uk/cornwall/routes-and-maps/network-maps

 

Housing

There are many different types of accommodation available and below is a brief summary of these. You may find yourself living in more than one kind in the future. 

You may be living in a foster placement and plan to stay beyond 18, this is known as a Staying Put arrangement. Under this arrangement, if everyone agrees, you can stay in your foster placement until you are 21. Talk to foster carers, social worker and PA if you want to think about staying put. 

You may decide to leave your placement before you are 18. You can access the supported lodgings scheme, SLS, through the 16+ team or consider supported accommodation that is available from other providers.

Cornwall Council’s local offer to care leavers undertakes to offer you advice and support to find suitable accommodation and to support you in keeping your accommodation. Click on the link to read more. 

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/nqgbwqox/care-leavers-local-offer.pdf

When you are 16-18:

Supported Lodgings scheme (SLS):

This accommodation is a stepping stone to independent living. Plans are usually put in place to increase your independent living skills by giving you greater responsibility within the home. SLS provides accommodation for 16-17 year olds (or longer if you are in work or education) to young people who feel they are ready to move on from foster care. Placements are throughout Cornwall and can be within a family setting or more independent accommodation. You will be expected to do your own cooking, shopping, washing etc. There is a waiting list so speak to your Social Worker or PA about this if it’s something you would like to know more about.

Training flats 

Cornwall Council have a limited number of short term training flats for care leavers. This can help you to gain a sense of the responsibilities that comes with independent living, and also experience the reality of living alone.

Supported accommodation from external providers:

LiveWest have Foyers for 16-25 year olds at:

Liskeard

Bodmin 

Carn Brea (also has 8 emergency beds)

Truro

Redruth

Penzance (young parents)

St Austell (young parents + 1 young person bed)

 

LiveWest is commissioned accommodation for young people ages 16-25. Some of these units are single flats and others are shared accomodation. All shared flats have their own bedroom but they share facilities such as bathroom and kitchen. The flat will be furnished however you will need to purchase bedding. toiletries, cutlery, pots and pans. You can stay for up to 2 years unless you breach the license. LiveWest offer 6 months’ transitional support upon leaving the foyer. 

There is a current waiting list for the foyer – however it is not “first come first served”. If you think this may suit you speak to your social worker or PA. 

Carthew House – Young Parents

Carthew House, St Austell provides supported accommodation, 6 rooms for Young Parents and 1 room for a young person. The rooms have an ensuite bathroom with shower and also worktop with cupboard, fridge with freezer box, kettle and microwave. The communal areas are the kitchen, lounge, laundry room and a bathroom with a bath.

 Day staff generally work from 9am – 5pm and night staff work from 7pm -7am. 

You need to be staying at Carthew House for 4 nights a week as your main residence. You are only allowed people you are working with you eg your social worker or PA to visit you in the house.

The Turnaround Project is a Foyer for 16 – 25 year olds based in Newquay. 

The Turnaround Project is a Christian led organisation and it has a Zero Drugs Policy which is implemented by drug testing on assessment and sporadically whilst a young person is living at the project. The Turnaround offer transitional support to young people moving on to independent accommodation.

YMCA – Penzance 

YMCA Cornwall is an independent local charity providing supported housing for vulnerable young people aged 16 – 25 who are homeless or at risk. They have over 40 flats and bedsits. 

If you would like advice about accommodation, the first step is to see a housing advisor. Appointments can be made in person by visiting reception at YMCA Cornwall or calling 01736 334820.

Housing advice appointments are held on Wednesdays at: 
YMCA Cornwall, International House, The Orchard, Alverton Road, Penzance TR18 4TE.

YMCA Cornwall currently has a waiting list for supported accommodation. The housing advice appointment acts as a gateway to their waiting list. After this initial interview you will be informed whether your circumstances meet their referral criteria. 

Truro Young Women’s Centre (TYWC)

TYWC is commissioned accommodation and support is run by Westward Housing and supports young women between the age of 16-25. There are staff on site 24 hours a day. 

TYWC have 1 emergency bed. 

TYWC offer 6 months transitional support when moving on. They also have move on accommodation in Truro. 

Pivotal 

Pivotal has two properties in Cornwall for young people in Newquay and Redruth. This accommodation is for care leavers or those ready to move on from supported accommodation.  You must be 18+ to be referred to the Newquay Pivotal and 16+ for Redruth. 

All rooms are self-contained and come fully equipped.

All of these options should be discussed with your Social worker or PA and they can make a referral to these providers on your behalf.,

When you are over 18

Supported accommodation (from external providers) see the information above.

Housing Jigsaw Customer Portal

The Housing Jigsaw customer portal allows you to register with Cornwall Council for housing support, access a Personalised Housing Plan online, upload any documents and to contact your housing officer. This will be the central place for keeping up to date with the progress of your housing application and for you to provide updates on actions agreed with the council. 

Cornwall Council and housing association properties 

Here is a link to find out more about Cornwall Housing 

https://www.cornwallhousing.org.uk/about-cornwall-housing/

Home choice 

Homechoice is the choice based system for letting council and housing association homes to rent in Cornwall.  Your PA will help you to complete the application on line for social housing but there is a big waiting list for accommodation in Cornwall so you should not reply solely on this approach. 

Once you are registered you will be expected to bid on properties, this means indicating which properties you are interested in.

 

Private rented accommodation: 

These are rooms in shared houses or flats that are rented by private landlords. 

To find suitable private rented accommodation start with looking at letting agents, local newspapers, or online using Facebook, Cornwall Live, Zoopla, Rightmove etc.

If you are not in employment and receiving benefits, the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) entitlement is the maximum amount that you will get from benefits toward your rent. It is set by the number of bedrooms that you are deemed to need and the area which the property is in. Click on the link below 

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/benefits-and-support/housing-benefit/local-housing-allowance

If you are looking outside of Cornwall, see the relevant local authority’s website for their LHA rates.

The figures are given weekly, and most properties rents are usually set per calendar month. To change weekly to monthly you simply multiply the weekly figure by 52 and then divide it by 12.

If the property that you find is above your applicable LHA rate, then you will need to make up the ‘shortfall’ of your rent from your other benefits.

Speak to your PA if you need help in working out what you can afford.

Types of tenancy

A tenancy agreement is a contact between you and your landlord. The tenancy agreement gives certain rights to both you and your landlord, for example your right to live in the accommodation and the landlords right to receive rent for letting the property. These agreements can be long and confusing, if you don’t understand parts of your tenancy agreement, ask for further explanation. 

There is some really useful information on the Citizens Advice Website about renting and tenancies, click on the link below 

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/renting-a-home/

Housing Benefit

You might be able to get Housing Benefit to help pay your rent if you’re on a low income or you claim benefits. Housing Benefit is paid by your local council. Most people can’t make a new claim for Housing Benefit. You may be able to make a clam if you live in temporary accommodation or your landlord is the council, a charity or housing association and they give you care or support. 

To claim housing benefit you need to be claiming other benefits and be over 18 if you are a care leaver. 

There is more information on the Citizen’s Advice website 

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/help-if-on-a-low-income/housing-benefit/help-with-your-housing-benefit-claim/how-to-claim-housing-benefit/

If you can’t make a new claim for Housing Benefit, you might be able to apply for Universal Credit instead, click on the link below 

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/before-you-apply/Check-if-you-can-get-Universal-Credit/

Rent

If you are not able to pay your rent you need to act quickly or your landlord may try to evict you. Talk to your landlord if you are having trouble paying your rent and also talk to your PA for help and advice or your local Citizen’s Advice Centre. 

Usually a landlord will ask for the first period’s rent to be paid in advance as a deposit. As a care leaver in Cornwall you are entitled to your deposit and a month’s rent being paid as part of the local offer to Care Leavers. If you are renting with a friend or a partner the council will pay half of the deposit and first month’s rent for you. Your PA will ensure that the property is suitable by undertaking a suitability check and making sure that all the paperwork is in order. The deposit must be paid into a recognised government scheme by the landlord.

When you leave your property you should get your deposit back as long as there has been no damage to the property and its contents. 

Becoming Homeless

Nobody should be facing homelessness shortly after leaving care, but more than one in four young care leavers have sofa surfed and 14 per cent have slept rough.

The combination of not being prepared to live independently, confusion about your rights and obligations, being lonely and isolated have sadly made homelessness the painful reality for too many care leavers.

If you think you are about to become homeless you need to contact your PA as soon as possible to discuss the situation. 

 

Setting up and Managing a home

What is a Setting up home grant?

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Setting up utilities

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Setting up Wi-Fi

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How to get a TV licence

Education, Training and Benefits

Financial support at university

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Claiming universal credit

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How to check you are being paid

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Updating your journal
How to obtain a sick note
Claiming PIP
Crisis in Care
Other grant schemes