Up to half of homeless teenagers who seek help from their local authority are turned away without an assessment, research by The Children’s Society has estimated.
Published today, ‘Getting the House In Order’, collected 259 freedom of information responses from 353 councils and weighted them against the general population.
It estimated half of homeless 16 and 17-year-olds who seek council support are turned away without an assessment. Statutory guidance – including the landmark Southmark judgment – requires councils to assess homeless teenagers’ housing needs.
But the charity warned the total figure of homeless 16 and 17-year-olds (12,000) may be significantly lower than the real total as data is not gathered consistently across the country. Different tiers of local government also have different understandings of need.
Bed and breakfast ban
Six out of 10 young people are given accommodation if they are assessed under the Housing Act 1996, while only four out of 10 who are assessed jointly, or just under the Children Act 1989, receive accommodation.
New multi-agency inspections should be introduced to ensure the guidance on providing accommodation and support for homeless 16 and 17-year-olds is implemented, the charity recommended. It also urged councils to cease using bed and breakfasts, after revealing 8% of young people were housed in them in 2013.
Young people at risk of homelessness often came from families who are known to social services, the research found. “The young people and their families are attempting to deal with a variety of issues like substance abuse, bereavement, mental health problems, involvement in crime, or risks of child sexual exploitation and abuse,” the report stated.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, called the figures “a national disgrace”. “These teenagers are being hung out to dry,” he said, “Few have the money or resources to find new accommodation and their options are limited.
“At best they might rely on the goodwill of friends or family, at worst they may be forced to return to an unsafe home or live on the streets.”
Professionals can mistakenly believe that adolescents are capable of dealing with problems on their own and do not require the same protection as younger children, the report found.
It explained that 16 and 17-year-olds are often perceived as young adults, despite being recognised as children in law, which can contribute to problems with how their cases are handled.
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, called the investigation’s figures “extremely worrying”.
“Cash strapped local councils cannot provide all the answers to these problems – money is also needed from central government to pay for the necessary support. Not every young person will need to be accommodated, but ultimately we must ensure that young people get the support they need and deserve, and are not pushed from pillar to post,” he said.