Local authority duties to homeless 16 and 17 year olds

Overview of duties and powers of housing departments and social services to accommodate homeless young people and care leavers.

This content applies to England

Duties to homeless young people under the age of 18

Depending on their particular circumstances, young people aged under 18 (and homeless families with dependent children) may be eligible for assistance from the social services authority, and/or the housing authority.

Local authority duties to young people and care leavers are set out in the:

  • Children Act 1989 (as amended by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Children and Young Persons Act 2008)

  • Children Act 2004

  • Housing Act 1996 Part 7 (as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002, the Localism Act 2011 and the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017)

  • Children and Social Work Act 2017

Local authority duties to homeless 16 and 17 year olds

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 usually falls to social services rather than the housing authority.[1]

Priority need of homeless 16 and 17 year olds

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 is a young person aged 16 or 17 who has already left care, and who was looked after for (a total of) at least 13 weeks from the age of 14, and have been looked after at some time while they were 16 or 17. This could include unaccompanied asylum-seeking children provided with accommodation by social services.

A 16 or 17 year old is also be a relevant child if they would have been in care on their 16th birthday, but was detained in the criminal justice system, in hospital, or had returned home on a family placement that subsequently broke down.

Approach to housing authority

If a homeless 16 and 17 year old asks a housing authority for help it must not simply refer them 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 they 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

Wh 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 their 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. Are they within the local authority's area?

  4. Does they appear to the authority to require accommodation?

  5. Is that need the result of one of the situations described in section 20?

A homeless child is usually 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]

If the answers to the questions above are 'yes', 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]

The child's wishes and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation (having due regard to their age and understanding) should also be considered. Not every homeless young person wants 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 they 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 have 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 they have 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 they should be provided with accommodation under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 as the housing authority will have the reason to believe they 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, 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 their only source of income and housing assistance until they turn 18.

Suitability of accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds

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] It is considered especially unsuitable for 16 and 17 year olds,[19] who should be placed in accommodation where appropriate support is available. They should not be placed in mixed-age provision.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found that, for the same reasons, a tent or static caravan can never be suitable accommodation for a homeless young person.[20]

Help for children from abroad

For information on the assistance that a migrant child, either unaccompanied or together with their family, who is not eligible for assistance under homeless legislation may be entitled to, see Help for ineligible children and families.

Last updated: 23 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [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.