Homeless care leavers

If you are a care-leaver you may be able to get housing help from social services. They should continue to help you until you turn 21, or until you are 24 if you are still studying full time. The help you get depends on your age and what help social services provide in your area.

Eligibility for social services help

You may be eligible for help from social services if you are a care leaver and spent a total of at least 13 weeks in care since the age of 14. The 13 weeks doesn't have to be all in one go. Any time that you have spent being looked after by a charity, the local council, a health authority, children's home or with foster parents counts.

You will probably have different rights if you have spent less than a total of 13 weeks in care or if you left care before your 16th birthday.

If you are in one of these situations, you could be eligible for help from social services and/or the housing department.

Get advice about social services help. Use Shelter's directory to find your local Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice.

An adviser can look into your situation and explain your options. Their advice is free and confidential.

Social services help for asylum seekers

In many cases, unaccompanied young people who are seeking asylum will have been looked after by social services until they turn 18.

When you turn 18, social services may continue to support you until you are 21 years old, as you are classed as a care leaver.

Read more about help for homeless asylum seekers and refugees.

Help from social services if you are 16 or 17

If you leave care when you are 16 or 17, the social services department that last looked after you is responsible for you until you turn 18. It has to continue to give you any help you need, even if you move to another area. This includes providing housing or helping you find and keep your own place.

Even if you have never been in care, social services are usually responsible for providing you with housing and support if you become homeless whilst you are under 18.

Any accommodation social services provides should be suitable for you. You may get a place in a foyer, a hostel, a self-contained flat or a children's home.

Get advice if social services places you in a bed and breakfast, as this is unlikely to be suitable for a young person. Use Shelter's services advice directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

Find out more about young people and homelessness.

Benefits for care leavers under the age of 18

The financial support that social services can provide is very important because you probably can't claim benefits (such as income support, jobseekers allowance or housing benefit) until you turn 18.

The only care leavers who can claim benefits at 16 or 17 are single parents and people who are unable to work because of a disability or illness.

Social services support after you turn 18

Social services should continue to help after you turn 18. Your personal adviser should still keep in touch and regularly go over your pathway plan with you.

If you need support to continue with your education or find training or employment, social services may be able to help by:

  • arranging a grant to help with the costs of your course
  • helping with the cost of living near your college, training centre or workplace
  • providing somewhere for you to live, or paying you enough to find somewhere yourself if you are still in full time education and your accommodation isn't available during vacations (they have to do this until you turn 25).

Benefits for care leavers over 18

When you turn 18 you are entitled to claim benefits. You can probably claim housing benefit and either income support or jobseekers allowance.

Until you turn 22, you are entitled to the one-bedroom self-contained rate of local housing allowance rather than the shared accommodation rate.

Your personal adviser should make sure that you claim everything you are entitled to and can help with the application forms.

Any financial help you get from social services should not be deducted from the amount of benefits you get.

You may also be able to get extra help to set up your new home. You can apply for a budgeting loan to help pay for rent in advance, moving expenses or household items. Most people who have been on income support or jobseekers allowance for at least 26 weeks can apply. These loans are paid back through deductions from your benefits.

Find more about sources of cash in a crisis.

Help for homeless care leavers

Most young people who have been in care are entitled to help if they become homeless. The only exceptions are some groups of people who have come from abroad or are returning from overseas (people who are not eligible for assistance). The help you are entitled to usually depends on your age and personal circumstances.

If you are under the age of 18, social services is still responsible for you. If you go to the housing department for help, it will probably ask social services to help you.

If you are aged 18 to 21, you can get help from both departments. You are automatically classed as being in priority need until your 21st birthday, so the housing department should help you find a place to live. Social services can help you by providing support and help with training and education.

Some older care leavers can get accommodation from the housing department if they can show that they are in priority need. This may be the case if you are vulnerable as a result of having been in care, for example if you haven't had a stable home since you left care, or you have slept on the streets in the past.

Advice for homeless care leavers

If you become homeless, get advice from a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice as soon as you possibly can.

Use Shelter's directory to find local advice centres.

An adviser may be able to:

  • check whether social services and/or the housing department should help you
  • tell you what sort of accommodation and support social services normally provide in your area – this will give you an idea of what you can expect
  • make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to
  • help you find emergency accommodation if the council won't provide it
  • tell you what longer term housing options are available in your area and give you an idea of how much it might cost
  • put you in contact with specialist support organisations or local schemes that can help you raise a deposit or find a suitable place to live

Complaints about social services

Social services have to take your wishes into account when they decide how to help you. They should also consider your gender and your ethnic and religious background when deciding what services you need.

Many young people have problems getting help from the council or are sent from one department to another without getting help. If you are not offered the kind of accommodation or services you need or if what you are offered is not right for you, you can make a complaint.

Get advice from a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or other local advice centre if you want to do this, as the complaints procedure can be complicated.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice in your local area.


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