Help and housing for care leavers

Leaving care is a big step – here's how your local council will support you through the process.

Council support

To qualify for the most help, you must have spent a total of 13 weeks in care from the age of 14. This must include at least a day when you were 16 or 17.

Help from the council's children’s services department can start when you turn 16 and last until you’re 21, or until you finish training or higher education.

Depending on your age and circumstances, you could get help with your accommodation and finances, as well as advice on how to live independently.

When can I leave care?

You can leave care at 16, although you won't have to leave until you're 18.

Make sure you’ve thought carefully if you choose to leave early – even with the support you’ll get, living independently may be harder than you imagine.

If you need advice about being in care before you turn 16, you can speak to Childline.

Pathway plan and adviser

Before you leave care, you'll get a personal adviser from the council who will work with you to make sure you're ready for independent living.

It’s their job to get you all the support you’re entitled to, as well as helping you to learn important life skills like budgeting.

You’ll be asked about:

  • where you want to live
  • your plans for work, education or training
  • what kind of financial support you’ll need

You’ll be given a pathway plan setting out clear goals for your development. This should be reviewed every 6 months, or whenever there’s a big change in your life.

You’ll have personal adviser and pathway plan support until you’re 21, or until you finish training or higher education.

Find somewhere to live

If you leave care before you turn 18, the council are responsible for finding you somewhere to live.

Your options will be explained to you as part of your pathway plan and there should be a chance for you to visit your new home before you move in.

Possible types of accommodation include a:

The council have to consider what you want when finding a new place for you. They must ensure the accommodation meets the needs recorded in your pathway plan. But the authority will have the final say on where you live.

Your personal adviser should arrange to visit you in your new home to see how you’re getting on. Let them know if you’re unhappy about anything.

If you’re under 18 it’s unlikely you’ll end up living in a self-contained flat, but you’ll also be given support with your tenancy if you do.

Older care leavers

After you’re 18, the council still have to help you plan where you’re going to live. They may also pay you some money towards your living arrangements.

This support can continue until you finish your education or training, or until 21 if not. You’ll get help with somewhere to stay outside of term time if you need it because your usual accommodation is unavailable.

If you’re in foster care, another option could be to stay in your foster carer’s home after you’re 18. Ask your council about ‘staying put’ arrangements.

Emergency housing

As a care leaver aged between 18 and 20, you’ll be in priority need for emergency housing from the council’s housing department if you’re facing homelessness.

This applies even if you spent as little as 1 night in care when you were 16 or 17.

You could also be in priority need if you're 21 or over. This could be because you:

  • are vulnerable as a result of being in care
  • have mental or physical health problems
  • have slept on the streets in the past
  • are pregnant
  • have a dependent child

If you’re a 16 or 17-year-old care leaver and are homeless, you’ll probably be referred to social services. But the housing department must provide you with emergency accommodation until children’s services can find you somewhere to live.

Sort out your finances

Between 16 and 17, the council will give you an allowance for things like:

  • food
  • clothes
  • transport

Your personal adviser should make sure you’re getting the right amount. It shouldn’t be less than you’d get from benefits.

Unless you’re a single parent, or can’t work because of a disability or illness, you won’t be able to get any benefits until you’re 18.

After your 18th birthday, you can claim for things like housing benefit, universal credit and jobseeker’s allowance.

Use EntitledTo's benefit calculator to see how much you could get

If you need extra money to buy things for your home once you’re 18, you may be able to apply to the council for a setting up home allowance.

You can also ask your school or college about claiming a bursary or a hardship grant.

Make a complaint

If you’re unhappy with any of the help you get when leaving care, you can complain to the council.

Get advice from a Shelter adviser on how to do this.


Last updated 19 Jul 2018 | © Shelter

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