Stuggling chef told he may have to quit course to pay rent

YOUNG people are being forced to choose between living in a cardboard box to get a good qualification or being stuck in a dead-end job just to pay the rent.

That is the view of aspiring chef Joe Fleetwood, who said he had been given an ultimatum – follow his dream and “make something of his life” or “sit on his backside” and claim benefits.

The 22-year-old said he was flabbergasted at being told by the Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau there was no support available to help him pay his rent and study at the same time.

“They said if I was under 21 I’d be classed as a young person and could receive support – the same if I was over 25. But because I’m in the 21-25 age bracket it appears I’m on my own.”

Mr Fleetwood began a professional cookery course at Cambridge Regional College in September, a month after moving into his new flat in Water Tower Place, Saffron Walden.

He had been working as a chef at the Fleur De Lys in Widdington before leaving and claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) about a month and a half prior to embarking on his Level 1 NVQ.

He also received housing benefit from Uttlesford District Council but was later told he would not be eligible for either because he was in full-time education.

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“I’ve just recently started a part-time job, which is enough to cover my bills, but I’m struggling with my rent. That’s why I went to the CAB.

“They spent hours trying to find a solution but the only advice they were able to give was to quit my college course, go back to the Job Centre and say ‘being a chef is what I want to do but I need this qualification to help me do it’. Then I’d have to hope the Job Centre could assist me in some way.”

However, Mr Fleetwood is still holding out hope that because his course is 16 hours a week he will be eligible for housing benefit – as the criteria states an individual must be studying fewer than 16 hours a week to be entitled to support.

But he said that doesn’t help other youngsters in a similar predicament.

“It’s not right. It’s ok for people who are lucky enough to be able to live at home with their parents but if that’s not possible you’re left stuck in an impossible situation,” he added.

“I’m trying to help myself when I could just sit on my backside all day and have the Job Centre pay me �400 for the privilege. But I want to get on with things and make something of my life.”

Uttlesford’s Citizens Advice Bureau hope to use Mr Fleetwood’s case in a bid to shake up the benefits system so young people are not left on the scrapheap.

Social policy manager Kelly Dorrington confirmed there were no handouts available to young people living independently and aged between 21 and 25 if they would like to embark on a full time college course.

“I have done some research and been told that the advice to young people in similar situations is for them to quit their college course and sign on the dole,” she said.