Protection on the cheap

Young, free and homeless. It is not what society would wish for its teenagers but sadly it is a reality for all too many who don’t have parents, or have ones who can’t cope. And the case of one teenager has brought a disturbing anomaly to light in the way they are treated once they are homeless.

The Howard League is challenging Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s decision in 2005 to place a then 17-year-old girl in a B&B under the Housing Act 1996 after she was asked to leave home. Her counsel argues she should have been entitled to help under the Children Act 1989 as a looked-after child.

Legally the council has gone by the book. The teenager was accommodated under the act as a person in priority need. She was not a looked-after child. But if a teenager becomes homeless, doesn’t it follow that they need looking after?

Presumably the discrepancy boils down to money. Accommodating homeless teenagers as looked-after children means they will later be entitled to leaving care support, such as a personal adviser and pathway plan, which must cost more than dumping them in a B&B.

The girl’s current position speaks volumes about a system that has failed her. Pregnant at 18, she is now living in a mother and baby unit for women at risk of violence.

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