Priority need of homeless care leavers aged 18, 19 or 20

Certain care leavers under the age of 21 will automatically have a priority need when applying as homeless.

This content applies to England

Automatic priority need for care leavers under 21

Applicants under the age of 21 who were looked after, accommodated or fostered by a local authority while aged 16 or 17 automatically have a priority need.[1]

This includes those accommodated by an English, Welsh or Scottish local authority.

The applicant is not in priority need if they are either still looked after accommodated or fostered, or a relevant student.

Definition of looked after, accommodated or fostered 

'Looked after, accommodated or fostered' includes being:

  • in the care of the authority

  • provided with accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, but not accommodation provided under sections 17, 23B and 24B of the Act

  • in some cases accommodated by a voluntary organisation or a health authority

The full technical definition is in the Children Act 1989.[2]

Young people who have been looked after or accommodated by an English, Welsh or Scottish authority while aged 16 or 17 have an automatic priority need in England.

If a young person has been accommodated by a social services authority, it is important to establish whether the accommodation was provided under section 17 or section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Most homeless 16 or 17 year olds are children in need, and this would have triggered the section 20 duty.[3]

Definition of a relevant student

A relevant student is a care leaver aged under the age of 25 who qualifies for advice and assistance from local social services authorities, including assistance with accommodation during vacations, and:[4]

  • who is in full-time further or higher education, and

  • whose term-time accommodation is not available to them during a vacation

A relevant student does not have an automatic priority need as a care leaver. 

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that housing authorities must liaise with social services.[5]

If an applicant is a relevant student, social services are responsible for providing accommodation, or the means to obtain it, during vacations.[6]

Cooperation between housing authorities and social services

Although many care leavers are the responsibility of social services, the social services authority may not always be able to provide accommodation from its own resources. It may seek the help of the housing authority under the Children Act 1989. The housing authority must respond to the request provided it is compatible with its own statutory duties and obligations, and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of its functions.[7] A failure to do so may give rise to a challenge by way of judicial review.

In addition, the Homelessness Act 2002 requires authorities to develop homelessness strategies in conjunction with social services and other relevant bodies. The housing authority may require specific action from a social services department to achieve specific objectives in its homelessness strategy. Similarly, a housing authority needs to take into account the provisions of the Children Act 1989 when carrying out its homelessness review and deciding upon its strategies. The Children Act places a duty on a social services authority to provide accommodation to a 'child in need' aged 16 or 17 whose welfare is otherwise likely to be seriously prejudiced.[8]

How this duty is met should be a matter for joint working and planning between the local housing and social services authorities. 

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references here are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

Last updated: 17 March 2021


  • [1]

    art 2 and 4 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 SI 2002/2051; s.105 Children Act 1989; para 22.21 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    s.24(2) Children Act 1989 and s.22 Children Act 1989.

  • [3]

    R (on the application of G) v Southwark LBC [2009] UKHL 26; para 3.1 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG/DfE, April 2018.

  • [4]

    s.24B(3) Children Act 1989; para 22.21 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [5]

    paras 22.5 to 22.27 and para 22.12 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [6]

    para 8.29 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [7]

    s.27 Children Act 1989.

  • [8]

    s.20 Children Act 1989.