Less than 30 per cent of homeless 16 and 17-year-olds given statutory assessments
Councils fail homeless teenagers
Councils are flouting government guidance designed to protect vulnerable homeless 16 and 17-year-olds, a major investigation by Inside Housing has revealed.
During the first 10 months of last year, only 27 per cent of the 6,677 housing applicants in this group had their support needs assessed, according to our survey of 99 councils.
Statutory guidance issued in April last year by the Department for Education and the Communities and Local Government department stated that all 16 and 17-year-olds should be assessed ‘without exception’. More than 3,400 teenagers in this group were housed in unsupported accommodation between 2007 and 2010, the survey also revealed.
Carolyn Hamilton, director of the Children’s Legal Centre, described the findings as very worrying. ‘It is extremely rare for this vulnerable group…simply to need a roof over their heads,’ she added.
Andy McCullough, national strategy and policy advisor at charity Railway Children, which helps young runaways, said: ‘Findings from Inside Housing’s investigation give cause for serious concern and highlight how much more councils still need to do.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said it made clear in its guidance that ‘all homeless 16 and 17-year-olds should be referred to children’s services for an assessment by them’.
The April guidance was issued after two landmark court cases found authorities had failed in their duties to 16 and 17-year-olds.
In February 2008, the House of Lords ruled that Hammersmith & Fulham Council should have provided social services to a 16-year-old girl rather than house her in a string of hotels and hostels. In May 2009, a High Court judge warned Southwark Council to stop social workers ‘passing the buck’ to housing colleagues.
Our research found that several councils have revised their approach since the Southwark ruling. The south London authority itself is drawing up a joint assessment policy - due to be in place this year.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council saw the number of cases handled exclusively by housing officers drop from 558 between 2007 and 2009 to none last year after setting up a joint social services/housing team. Our figures show that 38 per cent of cases were handled by social workers in the first 10 months of 2010 compared with 14 per cent in 2007.