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National Homeless Advice Service

Helping homeless 16 and 17 year old clients

Homeless 16- or 17-year-olds who apply to a housing authority should be provided with interim accommodation under homelessness legislation. The housing authority should refer them to children’s services for an assessment of their needs under the Children Act 1989.

A housing authority does not have to provide interim accommodation to a child who is not eligible for assistance because of their immigration or residence status. However, children’s services will have a duty to help them. Some people from abroad are not eligible for assistance.

Local authority duties

Young people aged 16 and 17 who have no accommodation immediately available to them can apply to the local housing authority as homeless. The local housing authority should provide interim accommodation under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996. An application under homelessness legislation will probably provide the most effective emergency solution - advisers could refer the young person directly to children’s services, but they do not have a duty to provide immediate accommodation pending an assessment of needs under the Children Act (although they do have the power to do so).

Where the housing authority provides a young person with interim accommodation, it should then make a referral to children’s services for an assessment under the Children Act. Where children’s services accept that the client is a child in need, they will in most cases accept a duty to accommodate the child under section 20 of the Children Act.

Advisers may find it helpful to request a copy of the local authority’s joint-working protocol for the assessment of 16- or 17-year-olds. A clear protocol is essential to ensure that staff in both children’s services and housing authorities are aware as to which authority/department, and which named officers, have the primary responsibility for each young person at any specific time.

Children’s services authorities may ask housing authorities for assistance in the exercise of any of their functions. This does not mean the children’s service is passing the buck but rather that they are making appropriate use of housing authority resources - for example the housing authority could assist them by making a certain amount of accommodation available to them to use in carrying out their duties.

See Social services’ duties to 16 and 17 year olds

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Timescales for assessment

When a young person aged 16 or 17 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 feed back to the referrer.

The assessment should conclude within no more 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 they are facing, the assessment may need to be done more quickly. Local authorities, with their partners, should develop and publish local protocols for assessment.

Once the assessment process is completed and a duty under section 20 is accepted, children’s services must produce a sufficiently detailed care plan or pathway plan.

Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out statutory guidance to inter-agency working and needs assessment between children’s services, housing departments and other relevant agencies.

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Common problems

The most common problems encountered by homeless young people in this situation are:

  • homeless young people are sometimes not advised of the full range of options open to them
  • inadequate or unsatisfactory accommodation is provided - this can occur where a homeless young person is given temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfast, or when a young person is granted a tenancy without the support needed to sustain it
  • accommodation is provided without accepting a homeless application or referring the young person to children’s services. The accommodation may be suitable in the short term, but it may leave the young person without accommodation or support of any kind when they turn 18
  • intentional homelessness - if a homeless young person does not want section 20 accommodation (for example because they have been living independently for sometime and can fend for themselves), this should on no account be regarded as an act of intentional homelessness for the purposes of homelessness legislation
  • a homelessness duty is discharged after a young person refuses, for example, an offer of bed and breakfast accommodation, or some other form of temporary accommodation. A local authority should take care to understand the reasons for a refusal of assistance offered
  • delay - children’s services should ensure that a child in need assessment is carried out within defined timescales and that acceptance of their section 20 duty is not unduly delayed by the assessment process. Housing authorities must ensure that, having provided temporary accommodation, they refer young applicants to social services for assessment without delay.

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