This page is targeted at housing professionals. Our main site is at www.shelter.org.uk

Homeless 16- and 17-year-olds

This content applies to England

Local authority duties to 16- and 17-year-old homelessness people.

Any duty owed to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds under the Children Act 1989 takes precedence over the duties under the homelessness legislation, and the ongoing duty to accommodate and support will normally fall to social services rather than the housing authority.[1]

For information on the general rules and procedures for applications by people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, and the priority need categories, see the pages in the Homelessness applications section.

Priority need

All 16- and 17-year-old homeless applicants must be accepted as in priority need except for an applicant who is:[2]

  • a relevant child, or
  • a child in need to whom a local authority owe a duty to provide accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

A relevant child is a child who is aged 16 or 17, who has spent at least 13 weeks in care while over the age of 14, at least one day of which must have been when s/he was over the age of 16. For more information see the page 16- and 17-year-olds and priority need in the homelessness section.

See the Glossary for definitions of terminology relating to young people.

For details of the duties on social services to provide accommodation to children in need under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, see the page Accommodation under section 20.

Approach to housing authority

If a homeless 16- and 17-year-old asks a housing authority for help it must not simply refer her/him to social services. The housing authority is under a duty to assess whether an applicant is in priority need, and if it has reason to believe s/he may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need it must provide interim accommodation pending inquiries (this is likely to apply unless it knows the young person is a relevant child).[3]

Approach to social services

If a homeless 16- and 17-year-old who has nowhere to stay asks social services for help, social services must secure suitable emergency accommodation whilst her/his needs are assessed.[4]

Joint-working protocol

Housing and social services authorities, in both unitary and separate authorities, should have a joint-working protocol for the assessment of 16- and 17-year-olds and to prevent young people being passed from pillar to post.[5]

Accommodation under the Children Act 1989

In determining whether a homeless 16- or 17-year-old is a 'child in need' who is owed a duty to be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, social services should assess the situation by answering the following questions:[6]

  1. Is the applicant a child?
  2. Is the applicant a child in need?
  3. Is s/he within the local authority's area?
  4. Does s/he appear to the authority to require accommodation?
  5. Is that need the result of one of the situations described in section 20 (see under 'Section 20' below)?

A homeless child will usually be a child in need. Only in exceptional circumstances would a 16- or 17-year-old who is without accommodation not be 'in need', for example, a child whose home has been temporarily damaged by fire or flood who could afford hotel accommodation while it is repaired might possibly not be 'in need'.

The duty to carry out the assessment of the homeless child's needs falls on the authority where the child presents - there is no requirement for the child to be ordinarily resident in the authority's area. The statutory guidance states that young people requesting assistance from social services must not be 'passed from pillar to post while the authorities determine where he or she comes from'.[7] See Children in need for information on assessment.

If the answers to the questions above are in the affirmative, a homeless child must be accommodated under section 20, unless there are particular factors that would suggest support under section 17 would be more appropriate.[8] See Accommodation under section 17 for details.

The child's wishes and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation (having due regard to her/his age and understanding) should also be considered. Not every homeless young person will want the support that goes with the provision of accommodation under section 20, but should nevertheless have the benefit of advice about the benefits of this so s/he can make an informed choice.

If social services provides accommodation for a child in need, and a duty to do so arises under section 20, then the authority must be regarded as providing that accommodation under section 20, and not under section 17.[9] Social services cannot evade its specific duty under section 20 by claiming to act under section 17.[10]

Social services has the power, but not a duty, to provide accommodation pending an assessment of whether a 16- or 17-year-old is a child in need,[11] although guidance states that if a 16 or 17 year old seeks help from, or is referred to, social services and then s/he has nowhere to stay social services must secure emergency accommodation.[12] If social services does not provide immediate accommodation or the young person approaches housing services first, the 16- or 17-year-old can make a homeless application and s/he should be provided with accommodation under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 as the housing authority will have the reason to believe s/he may be in priority need.[13] If social services then assesses the person to be a child in need it must, except in limited circumstances, provide accommodation under section 20.[14]

The duty under section 20 can be discharged if a child in need, who is competent to make such a decision, persistently refuses the accommodation offered. However, where there remains a need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the young person, social services should offer accommodation under section 17 until the young person either turns 18 or no longer needs accommodation.[15]

Care leavers aged 16 and 17

Social services authorities have a responsibility to provide accommodation for 16- and 17-year-old care leavers who are relevant children (see the Glossary for the full definition), unless they believe that their welfare does not require it.[16] A care leaver who is defined as a relevant child can apply for assistance under the homelessness legislation, but it is most likely that social services will be her/his only source of income and housing assistance until s/he turns 18. See Leaving care provisions for more information.

Suitability

Any accommodation provided either by social services or by the housing authority under part 7 must be suitable for the applicant's needs.[17] Bed and breakfast accommodation is not normally considered suitable for accommodating homeless applicants, [18] and is considered especially unsuitable for 16- and 17-year-olds,[19] who should be placed in accommodation where appropriate support is available and not in mixed-age provision. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found that, for the same reasons, a tent and/or static caravan can never be suitable accommodation for a homeless young person.[20]

Wales

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

[1] R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26; para 1.2 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG/DfE, April 2018.

[2] para 3 Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 SI 2002/2051.

[3] s.188(1) Housing Act 1996; R (on the application of M) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2008] UKHL 14; para 4.2 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] para 3.23 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[5] paras 6.6 to 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.

[6] R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26.

[7] para 1.3 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018; see also LGSCO complaint against Doncaster MBC no. 13 001 144, 3 March 2014.

[8] R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26; para 3.59 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[9] R (on the application of G) v Barnet LBC: R (on the application of W) v Lambeth LBC: R (on the application of A) v Lambeth LBC [2003] UKHL 57.

[10] R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26; H v Wandsworth LBC: Barhanu v Hackney LBC: B v Islington LBC [2007] EWHC 1082 (Admin).

[11] s.20(4) Children Act 1989.

[12] para 3.23 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[13] R (on the application of M) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2008] UKHL 14.

[14] para 3.60 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[15] R (on the application of A) v Haringey LBC [2016] EWHC 3054 (Admin); paras 4.28 and 4.29 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[16] s.23B(8) Children Act 1989, as amended by s.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

[17] s.210 Housing Act 1996; chapter 17 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[18] para 17.30 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[19] para 17.39 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018; para 5.10 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DfE, April 2018.

[20] LGSCO investigation into a complaint against Cornwall Council ref. n. 17 005 652.

Back to top