Joint Protocol for Young People Between 16-21 in Housing Need


Appendix 2: Signatories was updated in March 2023.

1. Introduction

This joint protocol covers the service provision to young people who are single people aged 16 and 17 years and who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This document offers guidance to Children's Social Care and the Swindon Borough Council Housing Services regarding their duties under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

Swindon Borough Council is committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for young people who turn to us for assistance. This joint protocol is an important for improving our response to young people who need housing – it is particularly important because it focuses on the first approach a young person makes to us, when a prompt, well-informed and seamless response is most necessary.


To update working arrangements between Housing and Children's Social Care, following legislation to extend priority need for housing accommodation to this group:

  • To establish the basis of partnership working to improve the services provided for young people in Swindon;
  • To clarify respective responsibilities;
  • To provide detailed guidance to ensure a focus on young people;
  • To ensure direct communication between frontline workers and/or their managers to resolve differences at the earliest stage;
  • To make sure that young people are not sent from one service to the other without prior direct communication.


We share a number of principles and beliefs about young people and their transition to independent adulthood:

  • The experience of homelessness is damaging to young people and to their life chances: the statutory joint guidance states that "it is in the best interests of most young people aged 16 or 17 to live in the family home, or, where this is not safe or appropriate, with responsible adults in their wider family and friends network";
  • Bed and breakfast accommodation is not suitable for use by children's services or housing authorities to accommodate 16 and 17 year old young people on a temporary basis: this principle is re-emphasised by the statutory joint guidance;
  • Young people should be given every opportunity to have a realistic understanding of the options available to them, and to make informed choices about their future;
  • Parents of, or those with parental responsibility for, 16 and 17 year olds are responsible for their children's welfare.

We are also committed to a number of principles in putting this protocol into practice:

  • A young person in crisis should receive a practical and immediate response from whichever agency they first approach;
  • All agencies should be open and straightforward with young people and their parents and carers, both about the service which they can offer, and what other agencies' role and capabilities are;
  • Agencies will share information about a young person and their family, subject to the proper consent of the young person and their family;
  • Housing options and Social Care teams should collaborate during the assessment process;
  • The availability or otherwise of suitable accommodation or support must not influence the determination of statutory duties under the Children Act 1989;
  • Once potential duties are determined, Social Care and housing options teams should work together, in consultation with the young person to agree the way forward.


In May 2009, the House of Lords Judgement on the case R(G) v Southwark ruled that local authorities should presume that any lone, homeless child should be provided with accommodation under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 to accommodate any child in need aged 16 and 17 whose welfare is likely to be seriously prejudiced without the provision of accommodation. At the same time, local housing authorities are required under the Housing Act 1996 (as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002) to secure accommodation for people who are unintentionally homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.

Children in need are defined in Section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 as: those who are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health and development, unless the local authority (that is Children Social Care) provides services; those whose health and development is likely to be significantly impaired, unless the local authority provides services; disabled children; and the provision of services under this Section does not include accommodation.

Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, councils must treat 16 or 17-year-olds as looked-after if they have no one to take parental responsibility for them and they believe their welfare would otherwise be "likely to be seriously prejudiced". The authority must therefore provide suitable accommodation and support to the young person. Legislation and guidance emphasises the need for those with responsibility for Children and Families Services and Housing to work closely together to prevent and manage homelessness in relation to young people.

The only exceptions under Section 20 are:

  1. If the child is not in the local authority's judgement (based on an initial screening assessment) a child assessed to be "in need" as under Section 17 or Section 20. In nearly all cases a child being homeless and their parents being unable to provide them with suitable accommodation or care would result in such significant challenges to the child's welfare, that the child will be a child-in-need. This may be because they had been living independently for some time prior to their homelessness;

  2. Those who explicitly did not want to be accommodated under Section 20. Young people must be judged to be competent to make such a decision and have had the benefit of advice about the consequences of making such a decision.

Section 20 (1) requires that every local authority shall provide for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of:

  1. There being no person who has parental responsibility;
  2. Being lost or having been abandoned;
  3. The person who is caring for the child being prevented from providing the child with suitable accommodation or care.

The provision of Children's Social Care accommodation can only be provided if: the young person gives their consent to this form of accommodation (Section 20 (6) Children Act 1989) and to therefore becoming a 'looked after child'; and this is a proportionate response to meet needs.

2. Partnership Working

Young people who become homeless generally have many other issues that affect them. Therefore it is important that agencies work in partnership to ensure the young person's needs are met.

The aim of the Housing Options Team and Children's Social Care, in line with government guidelines, is to:

  • Ensure that young people are adequately supported;
  • Help maintain their tenancy;
  • Prevent homelessness.

Particular responsibilities lie with:

  • Housing;
  • Children's Social Care teams;
  • Youth Offending Service.

A Young Person Panel is held monthly where all 16/17 year olds are discussed. This is attended by the Service Manager of the Positive Futures Team.

3. Housing Service Responsibilities

In respect of vulnerable young people, the Housing Department will carry out the following duties:

  • Housing is responsible for anyone over the age of 16 not defined as being looked after by social care;
  • We will assist young people to have a planned move.

The first point of contact for young people is the Housing Options Officer.

The Housings Options Officer will:

  • Explore all housing options to prevent homelessness;
  • Fulfil all housing options to prevent homelessness;
  • Fulfil the duty of the Local Authority where young people meet the criteria of the Housing Act 1996 part VII, as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002 by ensuring the young person has appropriate housing available to them.

4. Children's Social Care Responsibilities

Referrals to the MASH can be made by any other agency, the young person themselves or members of the public. If a referral is received in the MASH enquiries will be undertaken and if an assessment is needed this will be undertaken by The Assessment and Child Protection Team (ACP).

The decision for the ACP Team to offer a service to the young person is made by the Assistant Team Manager/Team Manager and the support that is to be provided will be based on the outcome of an assessment of need. This assessment is undertaken by a qualified social worker within the ACP Team. On receipt of a referral regarding a young person being /becoming homelessness the ACP will contact Housing Services in order to arrange a joint assessment of the young person's needs. ACP will also make further enquiries as part of the statutory assessment process. This will include a particular emphasis on the young person's circumstances and their vulnerabilities.

The outcome of the joint assessment will inform the support to be provided to the young person.

See Section 8, Process to Determine Duties.

5. Swindon Youth Offending Team Responsibility

The YOT has no provision to access any accommodation directly.

Swindon YOT is a multi-agency team. Its aim is to prevent offending and re-offending by children and young people aged 10-17. As part of its pro-active prevention work, the YOT will also work with young people aged 10-17 who are at risk of offending.

Lack of access to stable and suitable accommodation is a known risk factor for offending or inappropriate entry into the criminal justice system. Gaining accommodation can reduce both. Having no accommodation can lead to the inappropriate use of custody/remand. The Youth Justice Board recommend:

  • YOTS have a named (or nominated) accommodation officer-in Swindon this is the YOT Operational Manager;
  • All young people either subject to a community intervention or on release from secure estate (custody) have satisfactory accommodation to go to.

Under 16 Year Olds

The YOT will communicate closely with Children's Services, social care teams to ensure suitable accommodation is accessed and supported.

16 and 17 Year Olds

Subject to the young person's status the YOT will work in partnership with social care teams and/or the Housing Services:

  • Social care has statutory responsibility for young people who are deemed to be vulnerable and in need under Sections 17 and 20 of the Children Act 1989;
  • The local authority has a duty to ensure that accommodation is available for young people aged 16-17 who do not meet the above criteria, and who are homeless through no fault of their own;
  • It is possible that a young person subject to an Anti-Social Civil Injunction can become 'intentionally homeless'. In this case, the local housing authority has no duty to accommodate. The YOT, Housing and Social Care teams will work together to prevent this happening, if possible, and ensure the young person receives services if they are 'vulnerable' and homeless.

Court Conditions and Remand

In the cases of young people subject to residence conditions in bail or Remanded to Local Authority Accommodation (RLAA) the YOT court officer will refer the young person to the relevant social care team who will assess the young person's vulnerability. They will then decide on the most appropriate accommodation provision.

Remand to Local Authority Accommodation

Young people will be referred to the MASH, Assessment and Child Protection team or the relevant social care team. Under no circumstances is Bed and Breakfast considered appropriate.

  • High Risk Offenders: such as arsonists and those who display Sexually Harmful Behaviour (SHB) can become excluded from housing provision. YOT, Housing and Social care teams will work together to ensure suitable accommodation is available as part of multi-agency public protection arrangements. YOT has duty to cooperate (DTC) partner in MAPPA but are reliant upon Social Care/Housing partners to access and provide suitable accommodation in MAPPA cases.

Young People in Custody

The YOT will assess the young person's housing needs whilst in custody. Every effort should be made to ensure the young person has advanced notice of their accommodation provision prior to release which should be identified as a minimum,2 weeks prior to release The YOT will work with housing and the relevant social care team as required to plan for the young person's release into the community, working together to support the placement.

The YOT will inform Housing/relevant Social Care team when a young person is due to leave prison to enable a planned move for the young person using the following procedure:

  1. YOT officer will complete the relevant forms and send to the relevant Caseworker;
  2. If required, the YOT to arrange a 3 way meeting, involving the relevant social care team, housing and the custodial establishment to discuss the needs of the young person.

Housing will then make a decision regarding young person's housing and inform the YOT officer.

Contacting the YOT

In the first instance the relevant Case Manager at the YOT should be contacted.

6. Young People's Floating Support Service

The Swindon Young People's Floating Support Service provides support to young people aged 16-25 and covers the whole of the Borough.

The Young People's Floating Support Service is currently delivered by Riverside, who provide support to young people to help them acquire housing related and general independent living skills to prepare them for life and to help them integrate into their local community. Please note that this service is due to be reviewed at the end of March 2021.

The service deliver support via one to one key working sessions or through group support sessions to offer advice and direction to prepare for independent living.

7. Joint Working Procedures

The Housing Protocol sets out a number of key elements to our joint working between Housing Services and Children's Social care within Swindon.

  • It sets out explicitly the principle of the approach where a decision making process flows through from First contact with the young person to successful conclusion with absolute clarity of where responsibility sits at each step of the process;
  • It recognises that for some young people there will be a simple route through into supported housing. For others, there will be a more complex route of assessment, support and temporary accommodation through to suitable accommodation which may include the young person becoming looked after;
  • Recognises that the significant advantage that can be gained in more successful outcomes for all parties and resource use by more closely aligning Housing Pathways for young people used by Children's Social Care and Housing.

Assessment of young people's needs and determination of duties under the Children Act, undertaken by Swindon Borough Council's Children's Social care is at the heart of the process for responding to young people aged 16 or 17 who present themselves as homeless.

Agencies will share information about a young person and their family, subject to their consent.

A young person in crisis should receive a consistent, practical and immediate response, which focuses on preventing homelessness in the first place, from whichever agency they first approach. This response should be underpinned by joint working between Children's Social Care and Housing Services.

First contact with young person

First contact with Children's Social Care

The MASH will:

  1. Check with the housing options team whether the young person has already contacted them and if so the status of their request for assistance under the Housing Act;
  2. Undertake a desktop assessment which includes:
    • Discussion with the young person and their family including extended family;
    • Contacting relevant agencies involved;
    • Exploring if with support a young person can remain at home.
  3. If the threshold is met for a statutory assessment the young person will be referred to the ACP for statutory assessment;
  4. The Housing Options team will be notified by ACP and a joint assessment appointment will be arranged-need to agree timescale currently 48 hours.

If the young person claims to have nowhere safe to stay in the immediate future and this has been assessed by Social Care.

Social Care will place the young person in appropriate emergency accommodation -contacting the housing options team to discuss availability and suitability of emergency temporary accommodation for the young person and how this can be booked for them.

Social Care will tell the young person what will happen next and make an appointment for them to meet a social worker from ACP and the Housing Options officer to start the process of joint assessment.

First contact with housing services

If a young person first presents themselves for assistance to Housing Services they will be directed immediately to the housing options team, who will:

  • Ascertain the young person's circumstances and immediate needs, by interviewing them;
  • Where necessary telephone the MASH to ascertain whether the young person is already known to children's services and whether there is further information about the young person's circumstances which would affect a decision about the safety of a return home;
  • If appropriate, contact the young person's parents and/or others with whom the young person has been staying to ascertain the reasons for them leaving and being unable to return and to try to extend their stay for the immediate future while their application for assistance is determined;
  • If this is not possible:
    • Arrange emergency temporary accommodation for the young person;
    • Assist the young person to claim any benefits they may be entitled to;
    • Make a referral to FCP/ MASH to arrange a joint assessment with ACP of the young person's needs using the rf1 (referral form);
    • If the young person has no funds for their immediate needs, and can get no other immediate help, contact MASH/ACP to discuss assistance under Section 17;
    • If the young person is placed in unsupported accommodation, refer the young person to the floating support service.
  • Tell the young person what will happen next (referral to FCP/MASH for determination of children act duties) and the process/timescale for this, ask whether there is anyone who they wish to support them during this process and in making decisions about the future, and give them a copy of the swindon borough council complaints process leaflet;
  • If there is concern that the young person may be at risk of harm, make a verbal referral to MASH advising that this is the primary referral issue, following this up with a completed referral form.

First contact with other agencies and local authority teams

Other agencies and teams, including Early Help services, educational and voluntary agencies and others, may become aware of a young person aged 16 or 17 who is facing, or already in, a housing crisis, or who has nowhere settled to stay (for instance, sofa-surfing). They should:

  • Refer the young person to children's services by completing form RF1 and sending it to the MASH by email;
  • If there is concern that the young person may be at risk of harm, enter this as the primary issue on the referral form in order to ensure priority processing and in cases of urgency, telephone MASH to make a verbal referral, following this up within 24 hours with a completed referral form.

8. Process to Determine Duties

On receipt of a referral regarding a young person being or becoming homeless Children's Social Care will determine by completing a statutory assessment whether:

  • The young person is a child in need;
  • Accommodation under Section 20 should be offered to the young person.

If a 16 or 17 year old woman is pregnant or has a child/children of her own, Children's Services' duties will be determined towards each of them individually. The LSCB pre-birth protocol should be followed if relevant. Similarly, if a young person is in a partnership with an older person, only duties towards the 16 or 17 year old will be considered.

Once a determination is made on whether children's services have a duty under Section 17, and whether Section 20 applies, the duty team will contact the housing options team to discuss the options to be considered with the young person.

Potential assistance to the young person

Children's Social Care teams and the Housing Options team will work together to conclude the determination of duties under the Children Act 1989 and Housing Act 1996 and, where there are duties to assist, to put in place a suitable package of assistance which reflects:

  • The young person's wishes and feelings;
  • Professionals' concern to put in place a package which is realistic and will best assist the young person in moving on to independence, including retaining supportive social/family networks and plans for education, training and work.

Actions following Children's Social Care determination of duties

Social Care actions following the determination of duties are summarised below:

If a duty is owed under Section 17 AND Section 20 applies

  • Discuss assessment outcomes and options for the future with the young person, ensuring that they have the opportunity to make a fully-informed decision on whether to accept the offer of assistance under Section 20;
  • In the case of an exceptionally vulnerable young person, discuss with the relevant Service Manager, the availability of foster or residential care options;

If the young person accepts the offer of assistance under Section 20:

  • Inform the housing options team and any other referring agency;
  • Arrange a placement in suitable accommodation, taking over financial responsibility for the young person's accommodation if they have previously been placed by the housing options team;
  • Put in place a care plan and allocate a social worker for the young person under Children looked after procedures.

If the young person does not accept the offer of assistance under Section 20:

  • Advise the young person to contact the housing options team as soon as possible;
  • Inform the housing options team by email, including the reasons for the young person's refusal of assistance;
  • Prepare a child in need plan for Section 17 support.

If a duty is owed under Section 17 BUT Section 20 does NOT apply

  • Inform the housing options team by email, including the reasons why Section 20 does not apply;
  • Prepare a child in need plan for Section 17 support.

Housing Options team actions after being informed by the duty team of their determination of duties under the Children Act are summarised below:

If a duty is owed under Section 17 AND Section 20 applies

If the young person has accepted the offer of assistance under Section 20:

  • Determine duties owed under Housing Act 1996 (no duty owed);
  • Assist children's services in finding suitable accommodation options, if requested to do so.

If a duty is owed under Section 17 BUT Section 20 does NOT apply

  • Determine duties owed under Housing Act 1996;
  • Assist young person in completing housing benefit claim form if they have been occupying emergency accommodation as a children's services placement.

If a duty is found to assist under the Housing Act 1996

  • Follow local housing authority procedures for interim accommodation and support, and eventual discharge of duty;
  • Liaise with the duty team about young person's support needs and case review (see Section 6 below).

If no duty is found to assist under the Housing Act (for instance, if the young person is found to be intentionally homeless)[1].

  • Follow local procedures to end emergency accommodation (if any) allowing the young person a reasonable time to make alternative arrangements;
  • Discuss the decision and the young person's future housing circumstances with the duty team and, if necessary, re-refer the young person for further assessment, using the RF1 process.

[1] The joint statutory guidance reminds local housing authorities that "applicants cannot be considered to have become homeless intentionally because of a failure to take up an offer of accommodation" (for instance an offer made by children's services).

9. Conflict Resolution

Legislation, Case Law and Government guidance emphasise the importance of joint housing protocols as a means by which statutory services will be held account to homeless and vulnerable young people for the services they provide. The most likely place where conflicts will arise is regarding the young person's initial assessment of need.

It has been agreed that this Protocol, if needed, will use the Swindon LSCB Escalation Policy for the resolution of disputes between parties.

See Escalation Policy.

10. Accommodation

Swindon has a number of providers, who provide supported accommodation for young people from the age of 16.

Vulnerable young people who come under Children in Need provision are a priority group for these services and can apply to these services for housing and support. In addition, the Housing Options Team have two emergency rooms within the Swindon Foyer and two emergency rooms within Radnor Lodge that can be accessed via the Housing Options Team. These rooms are used in a homeless crisis and are a means of accessing longer-term accommodation.

All Supported Housing providers are asked to notify the Housing Options Team of any likely eviction so that the Housing Options Team can liaise with providers to potentially prevent the eviction or work with them to identify suitable alternatives.

Young People will be provided with support by the accommodation provider that will run in parallel with the support provided by Social Workers as well as other statutory and support agencies involved with the young person.

Click here for more information on Supported Housing.

11. Review and Monitoring

This protocol will be reviewed in 6 months to assess its impact on the joint working between all partners.

When this protocol is agreed joint training will be provided for Children's Social Care and Housing staff. Any change in legislations will be updated in the protocol as required.

Appendix 1: Legal Framework

Multi-agency working is essential if young people in need of housing are to get appropriate services. This need for co-operation is recognised in legislation and accompanying guidance. It highlights an expectation from government that social services and housing departments will forge proactive links with each other, to ensure they can comply fully with the inter-relating pieces of legislation and prevent failures in responsibilities and standards of care.

The main duties to provide accommodation under the statutory homelessness provisions are owed only to those who are actually, or potentially, in 'priority need'. The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) Order 2002 came into force on 31 July 2002. The new order provides that homeless applicants coming within the new categories of priority will be accepted for the provision of accommodation unless they are not eligible for assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 or are homeless intentionally.

Section 189(2) of the Housing Act 1996, Part 7 provides that:

  • All 16/17-year-old homeless applicants have a priority need for accommodation except those who are:
    1. A relevant child;
    2. A child in need who is owed a duty under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

Key Statutory Duties are in the Following Legislation

Local Housing Authority Duties

Children and Families Services Duties


Housing Act 1996

Parts VI and VII of the Housing Act 1996 set out the legal framework for assisting homeless people and allocating housing.

Section 175: A person is homeless if:

  • They have no accommodation available in the UK or elsewhere;

  • They cannot gain entry to their accommodation;

  • It is not reasonable for them to occupy their accommodation.

Section 185: A person is not eligible for assistance if they:

  • Are a person from abroad who is ineligible for housing assistance;

  • Are subject to immigration control.

Section 189: A person is in priority need if they:

  • Or their partner, are pregnant;
  • Have dependent children;
  • Are vulnerable due to old age, mental illness or learning or physical disability or other special reason;
  • Are homeless as the result of an emergency (amended by Homelessness Act 2002).

Section 191: A person becomes homeless intentionally if they deliberately do, or fail to do, something which causes them to lose their accommodation.

Section 193: Local authorities have a duty to ensure that accommodation is made available to the applicant (amended by Homelessness Act 2002) if the person is found to be:

  • Eligible for assistance;
  • In priority need;
  • Unintentionally homeless.

Homelessness Act 2002

This Act amends Parts VI and VII of the Housing Act 1996. The main changes which impact upon young people are:

  • A duty on all local housing authorities to develop a strategic approach to tackling homelessness;
  • A new duty to provide long-term accommodation for unintentionally homeless people in priority need;
  • The extension of the priority needs groups to include:
    • 16 and 17 year olds whose support networks have broken down irrevocably and who are not owed a duty by social services as a relevant child or a child in need;
    • 18 to 21 year olds leaving care who are former relevant children;
    • People aged 21 or over who are vulnerable because they were formerly looked after by the local authority;
    • People who are vulnerable as a result of violence, being in the armed forces or in prison.

Children's Social Care

Children Act 1989

Section 17 places a general duty on social services authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs.

A child in need is defined as someone who is aged under 18 and:

  • Is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of appropriate services by a local authority;
  • Whose health or development is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired without the provision of appropriate services by a local authority;
  • Who is disabled.

Section 17 (5) allows social services to call upon other agencies (particularly voluntary organisations) to provide services on their behalf.

Section 20 (1) states that every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who requires accommodation as a result of:

  • There being no person who has parental responsibility for them;
  • Being lost or having been abandoned;
  • The person who has been caring for them being prevented from providing suitable accommodation or care.

Section 20 (3) states that accommodation shall be provided for any child in need who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare the authority considers is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide her or him with accommodation.

Section 27 a social services authority can ask a housing authority to help in delivering services for children in need. The housing authority must comply with such a request to the extent that it is compatible with their own statutory duties and other obligations.

DoH Guidance on the Act recommends that close liaison between social services departments and housing is necessary and may be best achieved through the establishment of formal arrangements.

The Secretary of State's Code of Guidance describes an expectation that social services and housing departments work jointly to exercise their duties and agree joint protocols to ensure that the intention of the legislation to provide a safety net for those young people who are homeless through no fault of their own is fulfilled.

Appendix 2: Signatories


The following have signed up to be part of this protocol:

Swindon Borough Council
Head of Housing Services
Mike Ash

Service Manager - Homelessness
Sarah Banting

Swindon Borough Council
Corporate Director of Children's Services
David Haley

Swindon Borough Council
Interim MASH/ACP Service Manager
Sunny Chhetri

Youth Offending Team Senior Manager
Michael O'Connor