Young people and homelessness

If you are aged 16 or 17 and you become homeless, you will normally be entitled to accommodation from social services. Social services can also provide financial assistance, help with training, education, and support for personal issues.

If you have been in care, the rules are slightly different.

If housing is needed immediately

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 will normally be the one that should house you.

If neither department takes responsibility for housing you while the assessment is carried out, get advice immediately.

If you have nowhere to sleep tonight, contact our housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444.

Use our directory to find agencies in your area who can help you.

Who do social services have to help?

You are entitled to housing, financial support  or both from social services if you are under 18 and in any of these situations:

  • you are disabled
  • you 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
  • you have come to the UK from abroad and are not here with a parent or guardian
  • you 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

It is very rare for a 16 or 17 year old not to be entitled to housing and support from social services. This is only likely to be the case if:

  • you had 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.

If social services say that they do not have a duty to house you, you should get specialist advice as soon as you can.

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 our 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 any of these apply to you:

  • you don't have money for food
  • you don't have anywhere to live
  • you are having problems that affect your health or education
  • you are living with a violent person
  • your parents or guardians are not willing, or able to look after you, or to allow you to live at home.

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 will be part of the same council as the housing department and in some areas they will be 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 what you are entitled to.

Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

How social services can help

Social services will 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 will depend 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 
  • 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.

Do social services have to listen to young people?

Social services have to take your wishes into account when they decide what kind of accommodation to give you. However, this does not mean that they have to give you what you want. It's important to be realistic, as the type of accommodation you may get will depend on what is available in your area.

Social services should also consider your gender and your ethnic and religious background when deciding how to help you.

Will social services try to make a you go back home?

If you are 16 or over, your wishes cannot be overruled by a parent  and social services cannot force you to go back home.

In most cases, both the housing department and social services will want to see whether 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:

  • if you ask social services for help, they have to do a full assessment of all of your needs,
  • social services can also offer financial assistance, help with training and employment, and support with drug, alcohol or mental health problems
  • social services cannot make decisions about how they should help you based on the reasons why you are homeless
  • if you are housed by social services it may mean that you will become entitled to ongoing help until you turn 21 (or 24 if you are still in full-time education)

Unlike social services, the housing department of your council can only offer you accommodation. The housing department may even decide that you are only entitled to limited help because you are intentionally homeless – for example if you were thrown out because of your behaviour.

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 will have 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 our directory to find agencies in your area who can help you make sure that your complaint is effective.

Read Shelter's guide Young people and housing rights (40 pages) for more information on help for young people.

Last updated: 1 January 2014