Jill Kerby: Adult children at home? Set some ground rules

A NUMBER of my friends, who thought they’d reared their chicks to adulthood and watched them leave the family nest (with mixed feelings, it has to be said), are now trying their best to re-accommodate them. “Blame the recession,” they repeat and not with much enthusiasm.

A NUMBER of my friends, who thought they’d reared their chicks to adulthood and watched them leave the family nest (with mixed feelings, it has to be said), are now trying their best to re-accommodate them. “Blame the recession,” they repeat and not with much enthusiasm.

The reason why so many of our young adults – 66% aged between 19 and 24 now with their parents compared with 59% in 2001 (the last Census) – have returned to their parents’ house is undoubtedly mainly for financial reasons.

The cases I know about include young adults who have lost their jobs, quickly run out of their savings and/or credit facilities and couldn’t pay their rent. In one case, a young unmarried couple (in their late 20s) are out of work and have lived both with her parents and now his.

No one is very optimistic that this latest move will work much better, though family number two has a rather grand holiday trailer in the South East to which both couples are removing themselves at every opportunity. The onset of winter means that option will be closed until at least Easter.

Other adult children, who do have jobs, move back in with their parents because despite having a wage, it isn’t enough to cover rent/mortgage, a car loan, credit card bills and the ubiquitous “I’m saving for a house downpayment/ emigration fund.”

Most parents I know have some regrets when their 20-something finally leaves home. For others, the empty nest is eagerly anticipated and celebrated. How you cope as parents depends a lot on your frame of mind both when the nest was vacated and reoccupied. The state of your budget inevitably plays a part in that view.

It’s been my personal experience – and years of observing the money habits of Irish people – that teaching children good financial habits from a young age and then advancing that process to include a financial charge when those children start earning money isn’t very widespread here.

Somewhere between the very pro-active step of opening a post office or credit union saving account for the 6-year-old, and then getting the 16-year-old to hand over some of her babysitting money as a household contribution… there is a yawning gap.

I think it comes down to many parents being grateful that they are not been tapped for even more money by their teens, who can supplement the ATM of Mum and Dad with their own usually tax-free earnings.

It isn’t much of a leap then to discover that rather a lot of unemployed or low-paid adult children, back living at home, only pay a token “rent” from their unemployment benefit or income to their landlord parents.

“She never asks about the cost of the utility or insurance bills,” said one father of his 27-year-old daughter who has been back living at home since 2010. “She says she can’t find a better job. She says she needs her car, tells us never to expect her for meals, but complains if there isn’t plenty of food of her liking in the fridge. She objects to her mother asking her to let us know when she isn’t coming home.”

The social niceties and house rules, especially regarding boyfriends/girlfriends staying over, are always tough – each family has to sort this out for themselves, but the financial arrangements should be, as follows, a contractual matter between adults:

Agree on a target time limit for their stay. An open-ended one is harder to terminate.

Discuss and itemise what your current food, utility and insurance bills are at the moment and by how they could rise (a third? half?) when the child returns.

Agree how much “room and board” money will have to be paid relative to their income and ability to pay. Ideally arrange this as a direct debit.

Cash loans – as opposed to genuine gifts of money – should be given only with the proviso that they will be repaid – inevitably, interest free, but repaid.

Agree beforehand on a future review date of the new living arrangements. Your child is no longer a minor so it is no longer your business how they conduct their private life, including their attempt to find new or better-paid employment so they can move out again, but they are your lodger and you have the right to renegotiate this contract when it hits the agreed maturity date.

Many years ago, a divorced woman I met who had three young adult children still living at home (two were working) asked me what “squatting rights” they had to the family home.

She had moved out the previous year to a rented apartment (the house was mortgage-free), leaving them to pay all utilities, food, etc as they each had – politely – declined to leave her nest. She now wanted to sell the house from under them.

Of course she had every legal right to do so and I hope she did (this was pre-2007) and is now living in some comfort off the proceeds.

No one wants to see their adult children destitute or homeless during this great financial crisis. But no one – in their right mind – wants to extend their “adultescence” either.

p.s. Many thanks to everyone who has sent me their payment protection insurance misselling stories. Keep it up! I’m expecting news this week from junior finance minister Brian Hayes, who is looking into the problem of the six-year statute of limitations and how it is preventing genuine complaints. I will pass on his findings to you next week.