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Cooperation between departments

This content applies to England

Cooperation between housing and social services departments when assessing the needs of, and assisting, young people and care leavers.

Issues to consider

There is a range of issues that should be considered when assessing the needs of children and young people or care leavers. It should be argued that these include:

  • the particular accommodation and support needs of the young person
  • the risks to the young person if s/he remains (or becomes) homeless
  • the personal characteristics and experiences of the young person
  • the young person's wishes and feelings.

Joint protocols

Local authorities should operate a protocol between housing and social services authorities that details their specific roles and responsibilities in dealing with young people.[1] Advisers can request a copy of this document from their local authority.

The House of Lords has stated that 'the statutory guidance given to both housing and social services departments stresses the need for joint protocols for assessing the needs of homeless 16 and 17 year olds. This is needed, not only to avoid a young person being passed from pillar to post, but also to ensure that the most appropriate agency takes responsibility for her'.[2] Statutory guidance states that it is 'essential that services for homeless 16 and 17 year olds are underpinned by written joint protocols'.[3]

Guidance

Housing authorities are required to have regard to the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities in exercising their functions under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and under the Homelessness Act 2002.[4] Social services authorities are required to have regard to the Homelessness Code of Guidance and to guidance issued by the Department for Education (formerly DCSF) when exercising their functions relating to homelessness and the prevention of homelessness.[5] The current Department for Education guidance is Working Together to Safeguard Children.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Education have also issued guidance to social services authorities and local housing authorities about their duties to secure accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year old young people.[6]

Guidance issued concerning joint working is to be followed by a local authority unless there is a good reason to deviate from it.[7]

Legislative framework

Promoting cooperation

Statutory authorities are under a duty to promote cooperation between agencies to improve the well-being of young people in their area, and to have regard to the need to promote the well-being of children in the discharge of their functions.[8] This applies to the authority as a whole, not just the social services department.[9]

Cooperation in assessments

Protocols should set out how social care assessments will 'be informed by, and inform, other specialist assessments' and 'ensure that any specialist assessments are coordinated so that the child and family experience a joined up assessment process and a single planning process'.[10] Guidance specifically suggests that it is good practice for the assessment of a homeless 16/17 year old to be carried out jointly by social and housing services.[11]

Requesting assistance from other departments

The Housing Act 1996 allows a housing authority to request a social services authority (in England, Scotland or Wales) to assist it in the discharge of its homelessness functions. Depending on its other commitments and responsibilities, the social services authority must co-operate by offering such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances. Each case should be considered on the circumstances at the time.[12]

The Homelessness Act 2002 establishes a referral and cooperation duty.[13] This duty applies where a housing department is dealing with a homelessness application from a person whose household includes a child under 18 years of age, and it has reason to believe that the applicant may be either intentionally homeless or not eligible for assistance. Under the provisions, the housing authority shall make the necessary arrangements to ensure that:

  • the applicant's consent is obtained for the referral of the facts of her/his case to the social services authority and
  • if s/he consents, social services is made aware of those facts and of the subsequent decision of the housing division regarding her/his case.[14]

Housing authorities may also wish to consider making a referral to social services where an applicant with dependent children turns down an offer of suitable accommodation, as such applicants could find themselves without accommodation and not entitled to further assistance from the housing authority. Again, consent for such a referral will normally need to be sought.[15]

Social services might respond to such a referral by for example:

  • conducting a child in need assessment (see Social services duties to children in need for more information)
  • where appropriate, assisting the family to obtain accommodation, for example, by providing temporary accommodation and/or a deposit.

Under the Children Act 1989, social services departments can request the assistance of a housing authority to provide accommodation for a child in need.[16] A housing authority must comply unless doing so would prejudice its ability to discharge its own functions, for example, where it has already decided that it did not owe any further duty to accommodate because the applicant had been found to be intentionally homeless under the homelessness legislation.[17]

Requests for assistance are not legally enforceable within a single unitary authority.[18] However, statutory guidance requires that the same degree of co-operation should be provided.[19]

Although duties under the Children Act rest with the authority as a whole, social services authorities have the responsibility of dealing with any problems regarding the provision of services.

Ongoing cooperation

In some cases it will be necessary for housing and social services departments to keep monitoring the situation and acting according to new information. This may involve further referrals. Where a social services department identifies a need for rehousing it is not enough to refer to the housing authority and close the file.[20]

Integrated youth homelessness services

Statutory guidance suggests that children's and housing services could establish an 'integrated front door' whereby the two departments work together to provide assessment, homelessness prevention and access to suitable accommodation. Children's services would need to take the lead, given that the Children Act 1989 takes precedence over the Housing Act 1996.[21]

In addition, the guidance suggests that:[22]

  • strategies such as homelessness or supported housing strategies should include the anticipated accommodation and support needs of vulnerable young people
  • consideration should be given to developing collaboration between children's services and commissioners of housing and support services to meet the housing needs of young people in the area.

Wales

The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] paras 6.6 - 6.11 Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018; R (on the application of TG) v Lambeth LBC and Shelter (Intervener) [2011] EWCA Civ 526.

[2] R (on the application of M) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2008] UKHL 14. See also LGO complaints no. 09/017/510 against Kent CC and no. 09/017/512 against Dover DC of 31 July 2012.

[3] para 6.6 Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[4] s.182 Housing Act 1996.

[5] s.7(1) Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 and R v Islington ex parte Rixon [1996] EWHC 399

[6] Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[7] R (on the application of TG) v Lambeth LBC and Shelter (Intervener) [2011] EWCA Civ 526.

[8] ss.10-11 Children Act 2004.

[9] R (on the application of J and L) v Hillingdon LBC [2017] EWHC 3411 (Admin).

[10] para 57, ch. 1, Working together to safeguard children, DfE 2015

[11] para 3.19 Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018

[12] s.213(1) Housing Act 1996.

[13] s.213A Housing Act 1996, as inserted by s.12 Homelessness Act 2002.

[14] ss.213A(2) and (3) Housing Act 1996.

[15] para 21 Overview and para 22.12, Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[16] s.27 Children Act 1989.

[17] R v Northavon ex parte Smith (1994) 26 HLR 659, HL.

[18] R v Tower Hamlets ex parte Byas (1992) 25 HLR 105, CA; R (on the application of C1 and C2) v Hackney LBC [2014] EWHC 3670 (Admin).

[19] para 68, Working together to safeguard children, Department for Education, March 2015; R (on the application of M and A) v Islington LBC [2016] EWHC 332 (Admin).

[20] R (on the application of J and L) v Hillingdon LBC [2017] EWHC 3411 (Admin); R (on the applications of KS & Ors) v Haringey LBC [2018] EWHC 587 (Admin).

[21] para 6.12 Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[22] paras 6.16 and 6.17 Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

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