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Charity urges closure of “legal loophole” in housing of vulnerable children

A “legal loophole” has left hundreds of vulnerable children who face homelessness to fend for themselves in unregulated children’s homes, children’s legal charity Just for Kids Law has claimed.

In a report, Not in Care, Not Counted, it said data provided in Freedom of Information responses showed there was an estimated 1,498 children aged 16 and 17 at risk of homelessness who should be in the care of local authorities but were instead put in unregulated children’s homes.

These include hostels and supported accommodation with minimal adult supervision, leaving them exposed to exploitation or abuse.

It said a legal loophole allowed councils to give them a bare minimum of support by housing them under the Housing Act 1996.

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These children were unlawfully accommodated under housing legislation rather than Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the charity said.

In other cases, they were housed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which normally applied to families and was not intended for lone children.

Many suffered domestic abuse, violence or neglect in dirty and unsafe accommodation, living alongside adults involved in alcohol or substance abuse.

Just for Kids Law called for the law to be changed so that no child under 18 can be placed in unregulated accommodation. 

Specific reforms it called for included that all places housing under-18s should be regulated and inspected by Ofsted - regardless of which legislation they were housed under - and that all homeless under-18s should receive support as a looked-after child unless they had explicitly declined.

Mark Smulian

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