The Government is currently going through the process of regulating supported accommodation for 16- and 17-year olds. From April 2024 providers of supported accommodation will be regulated by Ofsted.
What is unregulated accommodation?
‘Unregulated accommodation’ refers to the accommodation children in care typically over the age of 16 are supported to live in more ‘independently’. This type of accommodation is also referred to as ‘independent and semi-independent accommodation’ and often as ‘supported accommodation’.
In unregulated accommodation, children are legally only able to receive ‘support’ and not ‘care’ as they would in foster care or a residential children’s home.
Unlike children’s homes, which are registered with Ofsted and regularly inspected, there is no legal minimum standard for unregulated accommodation. This means there can be large variation in the quality of these homes, with many not meeting young people’s needs. Unregulated accommodation can even include tents, caravans, hostels and even barges on canals.
Why is unregulated accommodation used?
The aim of unregulated accommodation is to help young people in care on their way to living more independently.
But unregulated accommodation doesn’t provide the same level of support and care as foster care or children’s homes do, enabling young people to move into adulthood at a pace that’s right for them.
Some young people do not feel ready for this level of independence and don’t receive the support they need, especially during critical periods like school exams.
Young people are being disproportionately pushed into unregulated accommodation not because it’s right for them, but because of a lack of places elsewhere.
How many young people live in unregulated accommodation?
There has been a huge increase in children placed in unregulated homes (including homes out of their local area) in recent years, disproportionate to increases in the numbers of children in care.
As of 31 March 2019, there were over 6,000 children in care living in unregulated settings – up by 80% since 2010. This increase has been driven by an increasing number of older teenagers in care and a lack of regulated capacity in foster care or children’s homes.
What’s the issue with unregulated accommodation?
Individuals and organisations, including Become, have raised strong concerns that some of this accommodation is unsuitable or unsafe for young people to live in.
In some cases, semi-independent or supported types of accommodation may be the right option for some young people preparing to leave care, when considered as part of a thorough and managed assessment of their needs which listens to and considers their views.
But this doesn’t happen consistently enough.
Much of the provision is not being properly run, offering basic and infrequent help in poor quality accommodation, rather than the right level of support to safeguard young people and help them develop the skills they need to live independently.
In some instances, this is leaving young people at significant risk of exploitation.
The impact of placing children and young people in the wrong kind of accommodation can be damaging. It can mean placing them far away from friends and family, in unsuitable and unsafe conditions.
We regularly hear from young people who are unhappy where they are living.
If you are in care and unhappy with your housing, you can call our Care Advice Line on 0800 023 2033.
Although banning unregulated accommodation for under 16s is the right thing to do, without accompanying change to boost the sufficiency of regulated placements and properly protect 16- and 17-year olds by guaranteeing them care, the government’s action makes the current issues even more acute.
What changes do we want to see?
In our submission to the Department for Education’s consultation on reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers in June 2020, we set out that:
All children in care should receive care up until the age of 18, including those aged 16 and 17.
A separate set of national standards will establish a ‘two-tier’ care system for children aged 16 and 17 who enter independent or semi-independent accommodation. This will contradict the intentions of other recent welcome policy developments– such as Staying Put, Staying Close and the extension of personal adviser support to 25 – to extend care and support to reflect good (corporate) parenting.
Urgent action is needed to improve experiences for children in independent and semi-independent accommodation, but these proposals risk continuing to fail thousands of young people in care.
All places where children in care live should be regulated and inspected. We believe it is unacceptable to maintain unregulated provision of any kind. We recognise that independent and semi-independent settings can be the right option for some 16 and 17-year olds, but it is critical they can feel safe in the knowledge that where they live is properly regulated and inspected by Ofsted and can deliver them care.