Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 22: Care leavers

Guidance on providing homelessness services to care leavers.

  1. 22.1 This chapter provides guidance on specific duties towards care leavers who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. It covers:

    1. (a) corporate parenting duties placed on housing authorities;

    2. (b) joint working arrangements between housing authorities and children’s services authorities;

    3. (c) prevention and relief of homelessness;

    4. (d) assessing whether or not a care leaver has a priority need for accommodation; and,

    5. (e) the provision of suitable accommodation.

Corporate parenting duties

  1. 22.2 Local authorities have duties and powers to assist young people who are leaving and have left local authority care. As a corporate parent to all children in care and care leavers all parts of a local authority, including a housing authority, must have regard to the need:

    1. (a) to act in the best interests, and promote the physical and mental health and well-being, of those children and young people;

    2. (b) to encourage those children and young people to express their views, wishes and feelings;

    3. (c) to take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children and young people;

    4. (d) to help those children and young people gain access to, and make the best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant partners;

    5. (e) to promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for those children and young people;

    6. (f) for those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their home lives, relationships and education or work; and,

    7. (g) to prepare those children and young people for adulthood and independent living.

Children and Social Work Act 2017 (Part 1, (1(a-g))

22.3 There is a duty on children’s services authorities to appoint a Personal Adviser to provide support to care leavers until they reach their 25th birthday (except where the young person no longer wants a Personal Adviser) (Part 1(3), Children and Social Work Act 2017). The support provided by Personal Advisers should be based on the needs of the young person as set out in their statutory Pathway Plan. This may include support from a housing authority.

22.4 Any joint working arrangements between a children’s services authority and a housing authority for care leavers’ transition to independent living should include ensuring the delivery of effective preparation for independence with planned, sustainable moves into supported or independent accommodation. Local processes and/or practices should not involve care leavers routinely being treated as homeless when care placements come to an end in order to place the housing authority under an obligation to secure accommodation under Part 7 of the 1996 Act.

Joint working arrangements

22.5 The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Education consider that all young people leaving care should have safe and appropriate accommodation to meet their needs. By working together, housing authorities and children’s services authorities can better ensure that as a corporate parent, the appropriate accommodation and support is available to care leavers.

22.6 Housing authorities, children’s services authorities and other relevant departments within local authorities, are advised to develop joint protocols or procedures to ensure that each department plays a full role in providing corporate parenting support to young people leaving care. In two-tier areas all housing authorities in the county should be party to these arrangements.

22.7 A joint protocol should cover arrangements for achieving planned, supportive transitions to independent living; identifying homelessness risk early and acting to prevent it, and providing a quick, safe, joined up response for care leavers who do become homeless.

Advice and information

  1. 22.8 Advisory services provided by housing authorities’ under section 179 must be designed to meet the needs of care leavers in their district (section 179(2)(b)). For further guidance on the provision of advice and information on homelessness see Chapter 3. Housing authorities should work with children’s services authorities and consult with care leavers themselves to ensure the advice and information is:

    1. (a) designed and delivered in an appropriate format for the age of the client group;

    2. (b) available through communication channels which care leavers are most likely to access;

    3. (c) understood by children’s services authority staff.

22.9 It is recommended that housing options advice be made available to young people preparing to leave care to help them to make informed choices and avoid becoming homeless. Housing authorities may wish to provide training and information to social workers, Personal Advisers and others who have responsibility to support looked after young people, to ensure that the most up to date and accurate information on housing options is available to them.

Prevention and relief of homelessness

  1. 22.10 There is a duty on specified public bodies to refer to a housing authority (with consent) any household which is threatened with homelessness or is homeless within 56 days to a housing authority with the service user’s consent (section 213B). The following services are among those subject to the duty to refer:

    1. (a) social service authorities; and,

    2. (b) custodial institutions, youth offending teams and probation services.

22.11 For further guidance on duty to refer see Chapter 4. Specific referral arrangements should be made for care leavers and set out in the joint protocol or procedures.

22.12 When a young person aged between 18 and 24 approaches directly or is referred to a housing authority, if it is known that they are a care leaver or the young person says they are a care leaver, then the children’s services authority which has responsibility for them should be informed as soon as possible, with consent from the young person.

22.13 Where there is a duty to assess a care leaver’s housing and other support needs and develop a personalised housing plan, arrangements should be in place to enable the Personal Adviser to be involved in the assessment process with the young person’s consent. For further guidance on assessments and personalised housing plans see Chapter 11. Where there is no agreed local working arrangement, or where the young person has been looked after by a children’s services authority which is not part of local joint protocol arrangements, the housing authority must continue without delay with the duties owed to the young person under Part 7 of the 1996 Act.

22.14 Where a care leaver has a personalised housing plan this should be informed, by their Pathway Plan (section 23C(3)(b) of the Children Act 1989). The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers it appropriate for housing authorities to involve a young person’s Personal Adviser in assessing their needs and circumstances and developing a personalised housing plan that is appropriate to them. The young person’s consent must be obtained, and it would be advisable to seek their consent for the Personal Adviser to continue to be informed and involved in efforts to prevent or relieve homelessness. The Personal Adviser may also be requested to take actions to deliver the personalised housing plan.

22.15 There are specific legal requirements in relation to local connection for care leavers (section 199(8) to (11). For further guidance on local connection see Chapter 10.

22.16 Subject to arrangements for consent, where a housing authority is concerned that a care leaver may not be co-operating with the required steps set out in the personalised housing plan this should be shared as soon as possible with the Personal Adviser to enable joint early action to remind the young person of the actions to be taken and the consequences of not doing so. For further guidance on deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate see Chapter 14. Joint working to understand mitigating factors and resolve issues should continue throughout any action related to deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate.

22.17 The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers that all attempts should be made by housing authorities to avoid the impact of intentionally homeless decisions in relation to care leavers aged 18 – 25. For further guidance on intentional homelessness see Chapter 9. It will be a matter for the housing authority to determine whether or not a care leaver has become homeless intentionally, taking into account all relevant facts. To inform this assessment, housing authorities should consult with the relevant children’s services authority and obtain advice and information as to the young person’s emotional and mental well-being, maturity and general ability to understand the impact of their actions.

22.18 The personalised housing plan should be reviewed and, the housing authority and Personal Adviser or other officer should work together with the young person to try and resolve the issues.

22.19 Children’s services authorities have a duty to ‘former relevant’ care leavers in terms of accommodation if there are no other options available and the welfare of the care leaver requires it (section 23C(4c) of the Children Act 1989).

Assessing priority need

22.20 Section 193 of the 1996 Act requires housing authorities to secure accommodation for applicants who have a priority need, and whose homelessness has not been prevented or relieved.

22.21 Categories and definitions of people who have priority need are set out in Chapter 8, and include young people under 21 who were looked after between the ages of 16 and 18; and people aged 21 or more who are vulnerable as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered. Both of these categories exclude ‘relevant students’, who are owed particular accommodation and support duties under the Children (Leaving Care) Act. It should be noted that a young person who was looked after when aged 16 or 17 will be in priority need when they are 18, 19 or 20 years old, whether or not they qualify for care leaving services from a children’s services authority.

  1. 22.22 Guidance on priority need and vulnerability is contained in Chapter 8, and should be taken into account when assessing whether a person aged 21 or over is vulnerable as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered. Factors that a housing authority may wish to consider include:

    1. (a) the length of time that the applicant was looked after, accommodated or fostered;

    2. (b) the reasons why they were looked after, accommodated or fostered;

    3. (c) the length of time since the applicant left care, and whether they have been able to obtain and maintain accommodation during any of that period;

    4. (d) whether the applicant has any existing support networks, particularly including family, friends or a mentor.

22.23 Housing authorities should take particular care in assessing whether a care leaver aged 21 or over is vulnerable, and should take into account whether, if homeless, they would be at particular risk of exploitation, abuse or involvement in offending behaviour as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered.

Suitable accommodation for care leavers

22.24 Housing authorities and children’s services authorities should adopt a shared strategic approach to the provision of suitable accommodation for care leavers.

22.25 In considering suitability, all authorities should bear in mind that care leavers who are homeless will be particularly vulnerable and in need of support. They may lack skills in managing their affairs and require help with managing their own accommodation and operating a household budget. Many care leavers are likely to lack the advice and support normally available to other young people from family, friends and a mentor.

22.26 There should be no blanket presumption that at 18 a young person who has left care will be ready for their own tenancy; this should be a matter of individual assessment. Options will be based on their individual preferences, needs, circumstances and the local provision available and might include, for example, supported lodgings, supported accommodation or independent accommodation with visiting support.

22.27 Bed and breakfast accommodation, including hotels and nightly let accommodation with shared facilities, is not considered suitable for care leavers aged under 25 and should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for short periods.

22.28 The specific needs and circumstances of care leavers should be taken into account in determining suitability of accommodation in relation to its location. For example, in the absence of strong family support networks they may wish to live as near as possible to another significant adult such as a friend or ex-foster carer; or need to avoid certain locations due to childhood experiences or associations.

22.29 Housing authorities may want to involve Personal Advisers in decisions about the suitability of accommodation and inform them prior to making an offer of accommodation, with the young person’s consent. For further guidance on suitability of accommodation see Chapter 17.