If you are 16 or 17 and you become homeless, you are normally entitled to accommodation from the social services department of your local council. Social services can also provide financial assistance, help with training and education, and support for personal issues.
Get emergency help if you're already homeless
If you have nowhere to stay, either social services or the council's housing department should provide emergency accommodation for you while they assess your needs. The department you approached first is usually the one that should house you.
Get advice immediately if neither department takes responsibility for housing you while the assessment is carried out.
Contact Civil Legal Advice (CLA) on 0345 4 345 for legal advice and help with your situation.
Contact our housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 if you have nowhere to sleep tonight.
Use Shelter's directory to find advice centres and other agencies in your area who can help you.
Eligibility for social services help
You are entitled to housing, financial support or both from social services if you are under 18 and you:
- have a disability
- are a care leaver and have been in care for 13 weeks or more since the age of 14, at least some of which was while you were aged 16 or 17
- have come to the UK from abroad and are not here with a parent or guardian
- are classed as being a 'child in need' (almost all 16 or 17 year olds who have nowhere to live will be classed as 'in need')
When social services don't have to help
Most 16 and 17 year olds are entitled to housing and support from social services. However, social services may not have to help you if you have been living independently for some time before you became homeless, or you do not accept an offer of accommodation because you do not want to be 'looked after' by social services.
Get specialist advice if social services say that they do not have a duty to house you. This decision could mean that you are entitled to less help, both now and in the future.
Call Shelter's helpline on 0808 800 4444 or use Shelter's directory to find a local advice service.
Young people with disabilities
If you are a young person with a disability and are homeless or likely to become homeless, you should automatically be accepted as a child in need and be offered help by social services.
In most cases, the housing department also has a responsibility to help you, so the two departments should work together.
Children in need
You should be considered to be a 'child in need' if you are 16 or 17 and need help to manage the things that affect your health and development.
This might be the case if you:
- have no money for food
- don't have anywhere to live
- are having problems that affect your health or education
- live with a violent person
- can't live at home because your parents or guardians are not willing, or able to look after you
Applying for help from social services
You can go directly to social services and tell them that you need help because you are homeless.
In some areas the social services department is part of the same council as the housing department and in some areas they are different
Explain how your housing problems are affecting your health or development. For example:
- sleeping on the streets can damage your health
- having nowhere to live could lead to stress or depression
- it will be harder to get or keep a job if you don't have a stable home
- studying will be very difficult
- any medical problems you already have may get worse
- you need help to sort out problems in your relationship with your parents or guardians
- if you have problems with drugs or alcohol it's harder to sort yourself out
Many young people have problems getting help from the council or are sent from one department to another. If this happens, contact an advice centre immediately. A housing adviser can negotiate with the council on your behalf and make sure that you get the help that you are entitled to.
Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.
How social services can help
Social services have to assess your needs to decide what help you are entitled to. If you have nowhere else to stay, they should provide accommodation for you while they do this.
The law doesn't say exactly what help social services should give you. It depends on your personal situation, what is available in your area and how much it costs.
You should be given a range of services to help you with any problems you are having. If you are homeless this could include accommodation. This might be a room in a hostel, foyer, nightstop scheme or supported housing.
Bed and breakfast is not considered to be suitable for people under the age of 18, even in an emergency.
In rare cases, you may even be offered self-contained accommodation. If this happens social services should also support you with managing a tenancy on your own, by providing advice on budgeting, paying bills, claiming benefits and being a good tenant and neighbour.
Social services could also help you with:
- money for a tenancy deposit, which should be returned at the end of your tenancy
- rent in advance
- help with finding training or employment
- help with drug or alcohol problems
- friendship and support
- counselling and/or help with any other problems you have
Social services should also consider your gender and your ethnic and religious background when deciding how to help you, but the type of accommodation you may get depends on what is available in your area.
Returning to the family home
If you are 16 or over, your wishes cannot be overruled by a parent or guardian. Social services cannot force you to go back home.
In most cases, both the housing department and social services want to see if it is possible for you to return home by resolving any problems you have with your parents or guardians through mediation. But they cannot insist on this if you are at risk of violence or abuse at home.
If you and your parent or guardians do agree to mediation, the council should still agree to house you until the mediation has been arranged and the situation has been sorted out.
Advantages of being housed by social services
It may be in your best interests to get help from social services rather than the housing department, especially if you are about to turn 18. This is because social services:
- must do a full assessment of all of your needs
- can also offer financial assistance, help with training and employment, and support with drug, alcohol or mental health problems
- cannot say you are intentionally homeless and refuse to help based on the reasons why you are homeless
- may have to provide ongoing support until you turn 21 (or 24 if you are still in full-time education)
You also have a priority need for accommodation from the housing department if you become homeless again after you turn 18 and before you turn 21.
Complaining to social services
If social services doesn't offer you the kind of accommodation you need, you may be able to make a complaint to social services if:
- the accommodation and services you are offered are not suitable
- social services refuse to look into your situation to check whether you are entitled to help
Every council has a complaints procedure and there are also legal rules about how complaints should be dealt with.
Get advice before making a complaint, as the complaints procedure can be complicated.
Use Shelter's directory to find an advice centre in your area who can help you make a complaint.