What is unregulated accommodation?
‘Unregulated accommodation’ refers to the accommodation children in care over the age of 16 are supported to live in ‘independently’, rather than in full-time care such as a residential children’s home. This type of accommodation is also referred to as ‘semi-independent’ housing.
Unlike children’s homes, which are registered with Ofsted and are 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 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 all too often, unregulated accommodation doesn’t provide the same level of support and care as a regulated children’s home.
Some young people do not feel ready for this level of independence and don’t receive the support they need to develop independent living skills, especially during critical periods like school exams.
How many young people live in unregulated accommodation?
There has been an increase in children placed in unregulated homes (including homes out of their local area) in recent years.
As of 31 March 2019, there were over 6,000 children in care living in unregulated settings – up by 80% since 2010. (Source: Department for Education 2020).
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, good quality supported living providers can help young people before it’s time to leave care.
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 unsupervised care 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.
Isn’t unregulated accommodation banned?
In February 2021, the government announced that they would be banning unregulated accommodation for under 16. This ban will come into place in September 2021. That means, before this date, children as young as 14 or 15 could be placed in unsafe and unsuitable settings.
Although banning unregulated accommodation for under 16s is a positive step, this will leave many 16- and 17-year-olds vulnerable.
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 over 16-year-olds.
- 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.