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National Homeless Advice Service

Local authority duties to care leavers

Local authorities have duties under the Children Act 1989 as amended by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 towards certain care leavers.

All local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that all ‘eligible’ and ‘relevant’ (but not ‘qualifying’) care leavers are placed in suitable accommodation when leaving care. In addition, older care leavers may be classed as being in ‘priority need’ under homelessness legislation, meaning that local authorities have a duty to provide them with housing or support.

See the Coram Voice website for a description of the rights and entitlements of care leavers..

Although all eligible, relevant and former relevant children must be provided with a pathway plan by their local authority, different local authorities will provide different solutions for care leavers depending on different local resources and policies. All local authorities must publish up-to-date information about the services they offer for care leavers and other services which may help care leavers prepare for independent living and adulthood. This is known as the ‘local offer’.

In addition, local authorities must follow ‘corporate parenting’ principles, including preparing looked-after children for leaving care.

More information on care leavers’ entitlements is available from Gov.uk

Many local authorities will have dedicated teams/workers to assist young care leavers with the transition from care to independence.

Qualifying care leavers

This category applies to young people who:

  • left care after 1st October 2001, after they had turned 16, but who are not eligible or relevant because they did not fulfil the 13 week criteria (see below)
  • were accommodated, but in residential education, mental/health provision private fostering or Special Guardianship
  • were former relevant children but returned home successfully for six months or more and the relationship has not broken down.

A qualifying care leaver may be entitled to advice and to be befriended by the local authority. They may also be given assistance depending on their needs, as well as help with education and training costs, and the provision of accommodation during college/university vacations.

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Categories and duties: eligible, relevant and former relevant children

There are different categories of care leavers depending on age and length of time in care:

  • eligible children: Young people, aged 16 or 17, who have been looked after for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14, and who are currently looked after.

  • relevant children: young people aged 16 or 17 who are now no longer looked after, who were looked after for a total period of 13 weeks after reaching the age of 14, including at least one day while they were 16 or 17. (That is, they were previously eligible children. This category also includes: young people detained in a remand centre, or other custodial institution or in a hospital; young parents; disabled children).
  • additional Relevant Children: children aged 16-17 who immediately before being detained or admitted to hospital were accommodated by a local authority for a period of at least 13 weeks after reaching the age of 14. They will no longer be looked after, and may or may not still be detained or in hospital.

  • former relevant children: young people aged 18-21 who have been either eligible children or relevant children. A young person over 21 who is still receiving support from a local authority with education or training will be in this category until the end of his/her studies. The local authority will continue to owe duties until the young person turns 21, or until they turn 25 if in further education or training.

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Relevant children - care leavers aged 16 and 17

Local authorities must:

  • make sure that a pathway plan is in place by the young person’s 16th birthday or shortly afterwards and keep it under review
  • complete an Assessment of Need for the care leaver prior to their 16th birthday, or at least within three months of the child turning 16
  • provide financial support
  • provide the care leaver with a personal adviser, whose role it is to advise and support the young person, liaise with other relevant agencies, and implement and monitor the pathway plan
  • ensure accommodation is provided - for more information, see the section accommodation options for care leavers

Children’s services will be responsible for care leavers until they turn 18. At 18, a personal adviser should be appointed to support them until they turn 21, or 25 if they either are in education or training, or they request an extension of support.

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Pathway plans

The pathway plan should consider the care leaver’s need for support and assistance (which have already been identified in the previous assessment) and how best to meet these needs until the age of 21 (or longer if the young person is in education or training or requests an extension of support). Areas covered should include:

  • accommodation
  • practical life skills including money management
  • education and training
  • employment
  • financial support
  • specific support needs
  • contingency plans for support if independent living breaks down

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Personal advisers

A care leaver’s personal adviser must help the young person keep to their pathway plan, help the care leaver access services, and provide advice and support. Access to full information about available services and support will be vital if the young person is to make the successful transition to independence. Local authorities can make this information available in a wide variety of formats, but online access will be especially important for young people.

Care leavers up to the age of 25 who tell their council they have returned, or want to return, to education or training should be given the support of a personal adviser while they are studying or training.

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Provision of accommodation for care leavers

As part of the pathway plan, all accommodation options should be discussed with the young care leaver well before the date they are due to leave care, and every attempt should be made to find accommodation in advance of that date.

Accommodation provided for young care leavers must be suitable. For more information, see accommodation options for care leavers.

Relevant children and duties to accommodate

Relevant care leavers who are aged 16 or 17 are entitled to:

  • accommodation and maintenance
  • financial support to meet education, training and employment needs
  • a personal adviser
  • a needs assessment
  • the continuation of their pathway plan

Former relevant children and duties to accommodate

Former relevant care leavers who are aged 18 to 21 (or until age 25, or even later in some circumstances, eg where the care leaver is on a course of education in accordance with their pathway plan that is not completed until the care leaver is over 25) are entitled to:

  • a personal adviser
  • the continuation of their pathway plan, including regular reviews
  • living expenses associated with living near the place where they work/plan to work
  • assistance with education and training needs
  • Higher Education bursary
  • vacation accommodation if at college/university.

Care leavers applying as homeless

Homeless young care leavers aged between 18 and 25 can apply to the local authority for homelessness assistance. They will be in priority need if they were looked after at any time between the age of 16 and 18. From the age of 21, they may also be in priority need if they are vulnerable because they were previously looked after.

For more information, see priority need.

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Financial support

Children’s services will be responsible for the maintenance costs of 16 and 17 year old care leavers (who choose to remain in contact with their local authority - this will not be the case for all young care leavers). Prior to leaving care, a young person will be encouraged to learn about budgeting and saving, and to be increasingly financially autonomous. Except in exceptional circumstances, it will be expected that a 16 or 17 year old care leaver will retain control over their personal allowance.

16 and 17 year old care leavers living in a supported or semi/independent setting will receive a weekly allowance equivalent to benefits rates for other young people. This allowance will be continue to be paid regardless of any other income the young person has, such as a further education grant, training allowance or wages from employment.

If young people live in supported accommodation, where their utilities and some food are provided, deductions will be made to cover these costs. Additional allowances will also be paid to cover birthdays and Christmas (or other appropriate festival for a young person of a different faith/cultural background). An allowance may also be payable to help towards the cost of setting up home to cover, for example, a television licence and contents insurance. Travel costs can be met where young people are attending college, training or work, or interviews for these. Public transport fares can also be paid to help young people maintain or build family links.

Young care leavers may also be eligible for a setting up home allowance (leaving care grants) of up to £2,000 from their local authority.

Special benefit rules apply to care leavers. For more information, see the Turn2Us guide on benefits for care leavers

Former relevant children – care leavers 18-21

Local authorities continue to have a duty to provide financial support to some care leavers aged 18 to 21 (or 18 – 25 if in full time education).

Looked-after young people and care leavers should get a guaranteed bursary from the 16-19 Bursary scheme if they stay in full-time education. Additionally, local authorities must pay the Higher Education Bursary to all eligible care leavers going on to university, or higher education. (Additional help will be available for care leavers from their college or university.)

If young care leavers are in education or training at the age of 21, their leaving care support continues until the education or training course (which should be agreed in the pathway plan) is completed. Support from a personal adviser for care leavers who are not in education or training at the age of 21 will usually stop at their 21st birthday, but can be extended until the young person is 25 if they request this. The young person should discuss with their personal adviser other sources of support they may be entitled to.

Financial support for young people who disengage

Young care leavers who choose not to be accommodated by Children’s services and do not keep in touch with their key workers are nevertheless still owed financial and other support.

Prior to leaving care, a young person should be helped to set up a bank account, and payment owed by children’s services can be paid directly to the young person.

Young care leavers who wish to make their own accommodation arrangements can also ask children’s services to provide a deposit for a tenancy/licence, or take other steps to help them sort out appropriate accommodation. The young care leaver does not need to participate in the pathway plan in order to receive help.

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