Legal loophole leaves hundreds of vulnerable children facing homelessness to look after themselves

New data published by Just for Kids Law reveals that hundreds of vulnerable children facing homelessness are being left to fend for themselves without support in unregulated children’s homes due to a legal loophole.
11 Jun 2020

The data, compiled from freedom of information requests, shows that an estimated 1,498 children aged 16 and 17 who are at risk of homelessness and should be in the care of local authorities are put in unregulated children’s homes, which include hostels and supported accommodation with minimal adult supervision, leaving them exposed to exploitation or abuse. This is 1 in 5 of all children in unregulated homes. 

As homeless children, they should be taken into care by the local authority but a legal loophole allows councils to give them a bare minimum of support by housing them under the Housing Act 1996 and placing them in unregulated accommodation. 

Just for Kids law regularly works with children who are denied their right to be taken into care despite being homeless. Many of them have suffered domestic abuse, violence or neglect and desperately need the state to act as their parent and look after them by providing a caring home. Instead these children are housed in unregulated accommodation that is dirty and unsafe, forced to live alongside adults who are involved in alcohol or substance abuse. As Ofsted do not inspect unregulated accommodation and they may only receive a few hours’ support a week from a staff member, they are left at considerable risk.

A child who is in care is entitled to regular contact from a social worker and on turning 18 will become a care leaver with a right to financial allowances, support from the local authority up to age 25 and priority access to social housing. Children who are not in care have no legal right to any support, other than a place to live and are not given any support when they turn 18. 

Just for Kids Law is calling for the law to be changed so that no child under 18 can be placed in unregulated accommodation and denied their right to be taken into care.

Enver Solomon, Just for Kids Law’s Chief Executive said: 
‘These forgotten children are the some of the most vulnerable in our society yet they are being left without the support they desperately need, neglected by the state. It should never be acceptable for a child who has faced great adversity to be without a caring home. The government needs to urgently address the legal loophole that is allowing this to happen and ensure no child who is facing homelessness has to cope alone with minimal support.’

Notes to editors 
1. In February the Department for Education Government launched a public consultation on unregulated accommodation following pressure from campaigners and MPs to end the use of this type of accommodation for children. The consultation on Reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers can be accessed here https://consult.education.gov.uk/unregulated-provision/unregulated-prov…. To support the consultation, DfE commissioned research on Looked after children in independent or semi-independent placements which states that 6,180 looked after children (children in care) were living in these settings at 31 March 2019. But the report does not count those children who have not been taken into care – even though these children may be living in exactly the same unregulated homes as those in care. 
2.  Just for Kids Law, ‘Not in Care, Not Counted: A legal loophole: homeless 16- and 17-year olds and unregulated accommodation’ (June 2020) 
3. The law states that both local authority children’s services and housing services have responsibility to provide housing for homeless children aged 16 and 17, for example if they can no longer live with their family. But case law and government guidance make it clear that children’s services have the primary responsibility, meaning children in this situation should usually be in care. 
4. 134 local authorities (39% of all local authorities contacted) responded to the FOI request. Data they gave showed that between 1st April 2018 – 31st March 2019, 1,010 16- and 17-year olds were housed without being taken into care. Based on this we estimate that this figure across all local authorities would be 2,585. Of these, 585 16- and 17-year olds who are not in care were housed in unregulated placements on 31 March 2019. Based on this, we estimate that this figure across all local authorities would be 1,498.