Government accepts our recommendations to create a stronger safety net for care leavers at risk of homelessness

22 Feb 2023

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care presented a once in a generation much needed opportunity to transform the care system including, crucially, creating a stronger safety net for care leavers who are homeless. We are delighted that the Government has accepted and agreed to implement two recommendations to help achieve this that we have been campaigning for - to remove both the local area connection test and the intentionally homeless test for care leavers through legislation or statutory guidance. We would urge the Government to strengthen this commitment through legislation to ensure that care leavers are not subjected to a postcode lottery in accessing support from housing services. [1]

A safety net for homeless care leavers

We have been campaigning for these changes for a long time, through contributing to consultations on the Care Review and also publishing reports that highlighted the impact of these policies on the young people we work with. Our young housing campaigners have also been raising these issues and speaking about their lived experience of them with members of the Care Review and the Department for Education. They are very pleased to see the Government make these commitments as they know first-hand the difference it will make for young people’s lives.

Removing the intentional homeless test will ensure care leavers are not found to be ‘intentionally homeless’ if they have left accommodation that the local authority deemed suitable, even if they were unhappy with or felt unsafe in the accommodation, fell behind on their rent or got evicted. Removing the local connection test will help ensure care leavers can access stable social housing in areas where they may have important social connections and relationships.

Disappointingly, another key measure to end care leaver homelessness that we have been calling for - extending priority need legislation for homeless care leavers - was not included in the Care Review. However, we urge the Government to take this forward alongside the other recommendations to ensure that homeless care leavers in crisis do not have to jump through unnecessary hoops to prove their vulnerability and have a safe place to sleep.

Opt-out advocacy

As providers of independent advocacy, we are also delighted that the Government has committed to an opt-out advocacy service for all children in care that “will ensure children and young people understand their rights at pivotal transitions in their life.”

However, as this advocacy model is developed, we would ask the Government to ensure the independency of the service by making sure the commissioning arrangements do not limit an Advocate’s ability to advocate for a young person’s wishes and feelings, including across a broad range of areas.

We’re also pleased that the Government has rejected the Care Review’s recommendation to remove the role of the Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO’s) and Regulation 44 (Reg 44) visitors and will instead review and strengthen how these roles operate.

Inadequate funding commitment

However, whilst we commend the Government for these commitments and their pledge to reform children’s social care through accepting many of the recommendations in the Review, we are deeply disappointed that they have not accepted to invest the recommended £2.6bn over four years. Even this figure has been criticised for being too little to compensate for over a decade of cuts and underfunding. It is difficult to see how the Government’s commitment to “laying the foundations for whole system reform and setting national direction for change” will be achieved from their £200m investment alone. It is crucial that the Government reconsiders how much it will invest to ensure these reforms are adequately funded. 

Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA)

We are very pleased that the Government have said they’ve considered how their policy changes will impact children’s rights and are confident that their reforms adhere to the general principles and articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) after we encouraged the Review team to do a CRIA.

However, the two-paragraph assessment is inadequate and does not demonstrate how the proposed changes will impact children’s rights. The Government must, as a minimum, build on the care review’s CRIA as legislation and policy is being designed to ensure that children’s rights, under the CRC, are at the heart of the newly reimagined care system alongside children’s meaningful participation.

Next steps

Our youth-led housing and care campaign has already been instrumental in securing these commitments. Most recently, one of our campaigners was invited to the Care Leavers Ministerial Board, co- chaired by the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, to share their experience of housing barriers and encourage the Government to take forward these key policy changes.

We will be working with them to respond to the consultation questions set out in the Government’s implementation plan to ensure that all homeless children and young people in the care system can access the rights and have the bright future they are entitled to.

[1] The Government say they will “strengthen statutory guidance and set out procedural expectations on intentional homelessness to remove its use for care leavers under 25 and legislate if necessary.”