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7 Sep 2016

Howard League responds to report on accommodation of homeless children

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation’s report, Accommodation of homeless 16- and 17-year-old children working with youth offending teams, published today (Wednesday 7 September).

The highly critical report states that one in three homeless 16- and 17-year-old children who were working with youth offending teams had been placed in unsafe or unsuitable accommodation.

Inspectors were particularly concerned about the risks that children sharing hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation with adult strangers were exposed to.

They added that too many children had been given simply a roof over their heads with little other than a few hours of support from visiting professionals each week.

It comes several years after major legal changes, initiated by the Howard League’s work, clarified the responsibilities of children’s services for providing accommodation and support to such children.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is simply unacceptable that children in children’s services’ care are being housed in accommodation that is unsafe or unsuitable. Every day, the Howard League’s legal team supports young people by battling to ensure that local authorities meet their obligations.

“The law is clear. The Howard League helped to establish it, through judicial reviews and by working with external lawyers, based on our experience of supporting children in trouble. But while the law is there, too often the resources are not and that must change.

“Local authorities are stretched, but it is high time that they treated children as children who need much more than a roof over their head.”

Local authorities reviewed their procedures following two landmark House of Lords judgments.

A 2008 case brought by the Howard League’s legal team – R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council – established that where a child appears to need accommodation, that child must be referred to children’s services for an assessment of their needs, even if they initially present to the council’s housing department.

Following the case, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Children, Schools and Families issued joint guidance aimed at ensuring that there were “no gaps” between housing services and children’s services.

Any remaining doubt about the legal obligations on local authorities to accommodate children under the Children Act 1989 was removed in a second House of Lords judgment, in the case of R (G) v London Borough of Southwark [2009]. This made clear that homeless 16- and 17-year-olds must be offered support and accommodation from children’s services, under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, and not simply told to report to the housing department and be provided with accommodation under housing legislation.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. Accommodation of homeless 16- and 17-year-old children working with youth offending teams is available on the HM Inspectorate of Probation website from Wednesday 7 September.


Rob Preece
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