16 and 17 year old young people at risk of homelessness
5. Eligibility for services
5.1 Eligibility for services under the Children Act 1989
A young person presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness must be provided with accommodation under section 20 if assessment shows that they are in need and meet the threshold for accommodation under section 20.
A young person will be regarded as a child in need where they are unlikely to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by Buckinghamshire Children’s Services, or their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired, or if they are disabled.
Children’s Services sometimes provide accommodation to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds on their own under section 17 of the Children Act, though it is rarely appropriate as the young person would receive little support.
Section 17 establishes that local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. In cases of homelessness, section 17 is primarily used to accommodate families with children in need. The joint guidance clearly states section 17 cannot be used as a substitute for local authorities’ duties to young people on their own under section 20.
Section 17 can be used by Children’s Services to accommodate homeless 16- and 17-year-olds on their own as a last resort, when all other routes have failed:
- when the young person does not wish to be accommodated under section 20, and
- when it is subsequently found that the young person is also not owed the main accommodation duty by housing services (under Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996), for example because they have refused a suitable offer of accommodation or are found to be intentionally homeless
Where a young person is accommodated under section 17, they will not be looked after by the local authority and accommodation will only be provided until they turn 18.
Local authorities must provide accommodation to any young person if they meet any of the following criteria:
- they have no-one who has parental responsibility for them
- they are lost or abandoned
- the person who has been caring for them is prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing them with suitable accommodation
- their welfare is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they are not accommodated
A child or young person (including a ‘child in need’) who does not meet the above criteria (for example because their parent is still able/willing to provide suitable accommodation and their welfare is not otherwise threatened) will not be eligible for accommodation under section 20(1) and would likely not be owed a homelessness duty (for example because they have suitable accommodation available and are not homeless).
Local authorities may accommodate young people who do not meet the above criteria but whose vulnerability means that providing accommodation under section 20 is the best means of safeguarding and promoting their welfare.
Where a young person is accommodated under section 20 they will become looked after and will be provided with all the services that are owed to all looked after children but the young person must consent to this and the implications of becoming looked after must be fully explained to them.
If a young person is assessed as being a child in need but not in need of accommodation, Buckinghamshire Children’s Services can provide services to support the family under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and the young person will have a child in need plan.
5.2 Eligibility under homelessness legislation
Young people will be assessed under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996. This would be in conjunction with Children’s Social Care jointly assessing the young person.
A young person will be owed a homelessness duty if they are:
- eligible to access public funds
- assessed as homeless or at risk of homelessness within 56 days
A young person will not qualify for Part VII homelessness assistance if:
- the young person is not eligible for reasons such as immigration status (e.g. no recourse to public funds).
- the young person has a parent/guardian able to provide suitable accommodation and therefore the young person is not deemed homeless
If the initial assessment by Housing Services finds that the child is not eligible due to their immigration status, or that they are already in care, arrangements must be made immediately for them to receive assistance from Children’s Services who will most likely owe them a duty. If a separated child presents to Housing Services as homeless, they will be referred to Children’s Services who will assess them and most likely accommodate them under section 20.
During the prevention or relief stage, Housing Services will refer homeless young people to Children’s Services so that the child and family assessment can be conducted. They will then then coordinate their work with Children’s Services during the process of the child and family assessment to ensure the needs of the young person are met.
16- and 17-year-olds cannot be housed long term under Part VII of the Housing Act without a child and family assessment being completed by Children’s Services to determine whether or not a section 20 duty is owed.
5.3 Joint Working
The joint guidance advises local authorities to establish joint working protocols to prevent and relieve youth homelessness. These should clarify their respective duties so that young people are not bounced between services, work is not duplicated and so there are clear points of engagement for the young person.
Please note link to the Joint guidance Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be homeless.