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National Homeless Advice Service

Access to housing and support for 16 and 17 year olds

A young person in housing crisis may not know the correct local authority department to approach and may ask for help from any department.

They may also approach a voluntary group, charity, church or similar. Many of these will have protocols for referring the young person directly to a local housing authority or Children’s Services, or may act as provider of services for a local authority.

For more information on how can young people access advice and support, see the section on advice and referrals.

Advisers for young people can assist their clients in their applications by making use of supporting information, checklists and tools.

Getting help from a local authority - application, referral and duties

Once they have approached the local authority for help, 16 or 17 year olds may be provided with interim accommodation under the homelessness legislation whilst a child in need assessment is carried out by Children’s Services. Case law such as R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26 makes it clear that the duties of Children’s Services under the Children Act 1989 take priority over the duties of the housing department under the homelessness legislation (more information on the background and implications of this House of Lords decision is available from Shelter).

As young people’s needs are likely to go far beyond than just the need for a roof over their heads, Children’s Services will be more than just the correct department to deal with their needs in legal terms - Children’s Services (and/or any commissioned partners) will also have the staff and knowledge to correctly support young people and identify the type of tailored support and accommodation package required, in particular the type of accommodation.

In order to ensure that homeless 16 and 17 year olds are not passed between housing and Children’s Services, local authorities should have a joint protocol which sets out how each department will work together to conduct a joint assessment. In some areas the departments will not be part of the same local authority.

Guidance: Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be homeless and/or require accommodation.

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Initial contact and response

When a young person asks for help, detailed information should be gathered to determine whether the young person is homeless or threatened with homelessness and/or whether they can be supported to return home. The initial meting with the young person should try to establish their current situation and why they are potentially homeless. If the young person has nowhere to stay, emergency accommodation must be provided.

As part of the initial response, home visits can be carried out at this stage, unless there are concerns about violence and abuse in the home. The objective of home visits is to investigate the possibility of reconciliation, even on a temporary basis. Mediation can play a key role in this - for more information, see the section on exploring all the options.

With intervention at this stage, it may be possible to effect a temporary or permanent return to the family home, but if not, an emergency accommodation placement must be provided.

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Preventative work during the assessment process

Preventative work can continue during (and after) the assessment process. This could include:

  • arrangement of mediation and access to family support and family group conferencing
  • access to local authority homelessness prevention funds
  • benefits advice
  • time out or respite accommodation, so that the stay away from home is a short one.

If a young person is unable to return to the family home, it may be possible for them to be accommodated with friends or extended family, either as a short-term option while other housing arrangements are made for them or while more attempts are made at family reconciliation, or as a more permanent solution. For more information, see the section on living with friends and extended family.

These options can be used where they are appropriate and if the young person is happy to accept them. However, local authorities should not use prevention strategies as an alternative to fulfilling statutory duties.

A young person who is able to return home should continue to be supported there. For more information, see the sections on returning home.

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Assessment process

When a young person is referred for assessment to Children’s Services, a social worker should make a decision about the type of response that is required within one working day and feedback to the referrer.

The assessment should be concluded no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral. Depending on the needs of the individual young person, and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the young person, the assessment may need to be done more quickly. Local authorities, with their partners, should develop and publish local protocols for assessment.

The assessment may have three possible outcomes:

  • The young person is homeless but not a child in need - this is an unlikely outcome given the young person’s age, but might arise if the young person has previously lived successfully independently. From this point, they would be dealt with by the housing department under homelessness legislation
  • The young person is a child in need but does not want to be accommodated under section 20 (see below)
  • The young person is a child in need and wants to be supported under section 20

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Young people’s involvement in decision-making

Young people must be given the opportunity to understand and consent to becoming looked after. Signposting to information, advice and advocacy about the implications of becoming a child in care should be available.

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Once it is established that the young person is both homeless and a child in need, the legal criteria for providing section 20 accommodation will have been met. Children’s Services will be responsible for the funding and provision of accommodation, and for completing a pathway plan to outline the young person’s accommodation and support needs. Accommodation provided for homeless 16 and 17 year olds must be suitable. When a local authority is considering this suitability it should bear in mind that these young people are homeless and estranged from their family, and so may be especially vulnerable and in need of support. Therefore, the choice of a suitable placement can only be determined by a full assessment of the young person’s needs.

Emergency and short stay accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year olds could be provided through foster care or in a children’s home, but it is more likely that a young person would be placed in some form of supported accommodation or independent accommodation with visiting support.

In some areas, it may be possible for a young person to self-refer to emergency and short-stay accommodation, but in most, the referral will need to be made by Children’s Services.

For more information, see the section on emergency housing options.

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Bed and breakfast accommodation

No 16 or 17 year olds should be placed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation, except in an emergency and where no alternative accommodation can be found. If B&Bs are used in an emergency, there must be an agreement from the placing service that it should be used for the shortest time possible and that the young person will be supported during their stay.

Housing authorities are reminded that B&B accommodation is unlikely to be suitable for homeless 16 and 17 year olds. Where B&B accommodation is used for this group it ought to be as a last resort for the shortest time possible and housing authorities will need to ensure that appropriate support is provided where necessary; see Chapter 17 Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities.

The use and prolonged use of bed and breakfast accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds will be open to legal challenge.

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The provision of suitable accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who are not owed a duty under Section 20 or who refuse Section 20 accommodation

A homeless young person can choose not to accept section 20 assistance. If this happens, a local authority cannot insist that a young person accepts help. However, the local authority must judge that the young person is competent to make an informed choice, and must make sure that the young person is well-informed about their options.

A young person can choose at a later date to accept assistance - their not having done so before cannot be a factor in any decision the local authority makes about them.

Those (very few) 16 and 17 year olds who do not meet the criteria for accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 can apply as homeless under part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, which sets out the duties on local authorities to those who claim that they are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

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Challenging Children’s Services over provision for 16 and 17 year olds

The accommodation provided by local authorities for young people may be unsuitable, and advisers and advocates for young people may need to challenge this provision.

For more information, see the section on challenging unsuitable accommodation.

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