Table of Contents


The Joint Protocol aims to ensure that by working together, agencies will address the needs of homeless 16 and 17 year olds within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It has been developed in compliance with legislation and guidance and outlines the joint responsibilities of both the Housing Sector and Childrens Services within Cambridgeshire County and Peterborough City Councils.

The underlying principles are that young people are better off living in their family home or within their family network, as long as it is safe for them to do so and that homelessness at a young age should be avoided wherever possible.

This Joint Protocol concerns those young people where homelessness appears not to be immediately preventable and sets out the steps that respective agencies need to take to address need and support young people. However, it is recognised that there is prevention work which should be undertaken alongside statutory duties and that prevention work should continue even once a young person has left the family or their parental home. Over time it may still be possible to resolve conflict and reunite young people, where it is safe to do so with their families.

Key Principles

The parents of, or those with parental responsibility for, 16 and 17 year olds are responsible for their children’s welfare. Our primary commitment is to keep families together in their homes wherever possible and safe because this is best for the child.

There is excellent preventative work taking place at a local level which sits outside of this Joint Protocol. This work supports the principle outlined above: for most young people staying in their family home (with support) is usually the best outcome for them.

It is the responsibility of all agencies to keep children safe.

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. Where this is the only accommodation available, the agency with the accommodation responsibilities will look to the other agencies to see if there is alternative accommodation available.

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”.

Young people should be given every opportunity to understand the options available to them and to make informed choices about their future.

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

Duties under section 20 of the 1989 Children Act take precedence over the duties in the 1996 Housing Act.

A young person in crisis should receive a consistent, practical and immediate response which focuses on preventing homelessness in the first place and from whichever agency they first approach and an initial assessment script has been developed to facilitate this (Appendix 1).

In Cambridgeshire when a young person first presents they will be offered access to independent advocacy provided by the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS).


A number of judgments have been made by the House of Lords in cases concerning the interrelationship between the duty under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (“the 1989 Act”) and duties under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”) in the case of young people aged 16 or 17 who require accommodation.

The most recent of these has been R (G) v Southwark [2009] UKHL 26, but these have also included R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham [2008] UKHL 14. These judgments have restated and clarified the established legal position that the duty under section 20 of the 1989 Children Act takes precedence over the duties in the 1996 Housing Act in providing for children in need who require accommodation, and that the specific duty owed under section 20 of the 1989 Act takes precedence over the general duty owed to children in need and their families under section 17 of the 1989 Act.

The Children Act 1989, Chapter 41, Part III, Section 20 Provision of accommodation for children:

Key extracts:

  1. Every local authority shall provide accommodation 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 for him;
    2. his being lost or having been abandoned; or
    3. the person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.
  2. Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him with accommodation.
  3. A local authority may provide accommodation for any child within their area (even though a person who has parental responsibility for him is able to provide him with accommodation) if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
  4. Before providing accommodation under this Section, a local authority shall, so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with the child’s welfare—
    1. ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation; and
    2. give due consideration (having regard to his age and understanding) to such wishes and feelings of the child as they have been able to ascertain.
  5. A local authority may not provide accommodation under this Section for any child if any person who has parental responsibility for him is willing and able to—
    1. provide accommodation for him; or
    2. arrange for accommodation to be provided for him, or
    3. (In the case of a 16 or 17 year old and even if a parent objects, if the young person wishes to be a Child Looked After, they can be if they are deemed competent to make that decision)

If a young person is accommodated under Section 20 they become a ‘looked after child’ and they are afforded further protection and rights with a range of support and services, including a named social worker and a care plan. The plan must address accommodation and support with named contacts, timescales for action and review dates. Some young people who are ‘looked after’ will also then qualify for leaving care support and services up to the age of 21 or in some cases, up to the age of 24.[1]

While a local authority can offer services and support to a young person under Section 17 of the Act, they cannot substitute the Section 20 duty with Section 17 powers.

Housing Act 1996

Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 outlines the legal responsibilities of a District or Borough Council in terms of assisting people who approach the housing authority as homeless.

Homeless applicants who are 16 and 17 years old have a priority need for accommodation, except those who are:-

  • A relevant child
  • A child in need who is owed a duty under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

“The primary responsibility for a child in need who requires accommodation, including a 16 and 17 year old who is homeless lies with the relevant children’s services authority. The Children Act 1989 (section 20) places a duty on children’s services authorities to accommodate a child in need, and in almost all circumstances a homeless 16 or 17 year old would be a child in need.

However, there remain circumstances when the housing authority will have duties towards a homeless 16 and 17 year olds, including when the young person, having been fully informed of the implications, and being judged to have capacity to make that decision, declines to become looked after under the Children Act and instead applies for assistance under homelessness legislation.”

(Homeless Code of Guidance 2018)

The Housing Act recognises that some people will be homeless and roofless before a council can carry out its enquiries and make a decision about what duty is owed. Consequently, section 188 of the Act consists of a duty to secure interim accommodation whilst action is taken to relieve the applicant’s homelessness or pending a decision, if there is reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.

It is this interim accommodation duty that is used under the protocol when a homeless 16 or 17-year-old makes their initial approach to a housing authority.

Homeless applicants are entitled to a written decision under section 184 of the Act and those who receive an unfavourable decision are entitled to request a review under section 202. The deadline for requesting a review is 21 days but a local authority has the discretion to accept an out of time review. An applicant who is dissatisfied with a review decision has the right to appeal to the county court on a point of law.

Joint Statutory Guidance – Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation

Following the G v Southwark 2009 House of Lords judgment, the Government issued joint statutory guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) and Department for Communities and Local Government – Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation. This guidance outlines the legal duties under the Children Act 1989 and Housing Act 1996 for 16 and 17 year old young people who are homeless.

The joint statutory guidance gives clear direction on the complementary roles of Children’s Services and local Housing Authorities in implementing their separate statutory roles. The G v Southwark judgment clarified that in the case of a homeless 16 or 17 year old, children’s law takes precedence over housing law. In light of this clarification, a fundamental principle of the joint statutory guidance is that all 16 and 17 year olds who are homeless should be assessed by Children’s Services under the Children Act 1989 to determine whether they are a child in need, as set out in Section 17 of the Act and, if so, whether a duty exists to offer accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

The welfare of the child is paramount and a 16 or 17 year old must not be placed at risk whilst waiting for the completion of an assessment.

Young people aged 16 or 17 are still children and as such, all agencies have duties and responsibilities to act together to protect them if they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

The joint guidance was recently updated in April 2018 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, following amendments to the 1996 Housing Act, following the introduction of the Homeless Reduction Act 2017.

Information Sharing

This protocol has been formulated to facilitate the exchange of information between agencies. It is, however, incumbent on all partners to recognise that any information shared must be justified on the merits of the agreement. The balance, between an individual’s Human Rights and the need to disclose information, must be assessed to ensure the information shared between agencies is proportionate to the purpose.

Information shared will include personal data about the young person, including an assessment of their needs. Information will be shared using the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Children’s Social Care referral form and Joint assessment form.

If there is a need to share additional information on a one-off-basis, the parties concerned should consider whether the sharing is necessary to the agreement and document their considerations/findings, including any additional consents sought (and if not sought, an explanation as to why).

Consent should be sought and recorded by each agency who is sharing information where possible, however, information should be shared without consent if necessary if there are child protection and safeguarding concerns in line with the general information sharing agreement in place.

Joint Working Arrangements

The agency where the young person first presents is responsible for completing the initial assessment script. This means that it could be completed by the district Housing Options Team or by the relevant Assessment Team in Social Care if in Cambridgeshire or by the IROC team in Peterborough. “If emergency accommodation is required that night, the agency (either children’s services or the housing authority) whom the young person first approached will be responsible for providing this accommodation.”

If the initial assessment script is completed by Housing Options Team they will contact Social Care to see if the young person is known and will provide accommodation if initial assessment shows that this is required.

The young person will be allocated within the Assessment Service CCC or within IROC and a joint assessment of need will be undertaken with the young person. This will take a maximum of 10 working days.

Cambridgeshire – the initial assessment script is completed by the Assessment Service they will allocate to a Social Worker once they have established whether accommodation is required under Section 20 for immediate action or as a young person who is able to return home or stay with family and friends but who requires a full assessment of need under s17.

The Assessment Service will contact Housing Options and alert them to this situation and agreement as to when the joint assessment will start is made, again working within the 10 working day timescale.

Peterborough – a referral would be sent through the Customer Service Centre to the Imminent Risk of Care Team (iROC) team who will actively visit all relevant parties to discuss fully the circumstances and options available. Once completed they then discuss with Housing Options and a joint decision is made re actions to be taken.

The expectation is to consider alternative options before considering accommodation under section 20. So if iROC are unable to secure alternative accommodation with friends and family then both housing and Social Care resources for accommodation are considered at the same time that day.

If these resources are not immediately available then we can start to have the discussion with the YP about being accommodated under section 20. What this actually means and the reality of what is available. If agreed, then iROC would make the necessary request to accommodate and continue to support the YP if agreed.

There should be written confirmation of the outcome decision from the joint assessment and it should reflect the young person’s wishes and feelings and support to be provided. The outcomes could be as follows:

  • The young person is a child in need of services under s17 CA1989;
  • Children’s services should offer accommodation under Section 20 CA 1989;
  • Targeted Early Help Services could be provided to meet identified needs.
  • Duties are owed under the Housing Act 1996.

Childrens Services

If a duty is owed under Section 17 AND Section 20 applies Children’s Social Care will:

  • Discuss the assessment outcomes and options for the future with the young person ensuring that they can make a fully-informed decision on whether to accept the offer of assistance under Section 20. In Cambridgeshire young people will be referred on initial presentation, if they wish, to an independent advocacy provided by the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS). This referral can be made at any stage in the process as needed.
  • In the case of an exceptionally vulnerable young person, discuss with the relevant children’s services placement team regarding the availability of foster or residential care options.

If the young person accepts the offer of assistance under Section 20 Children’s Social Care and Housing Options Team will:

  • 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 allocated social worker for the young person In accordance with looked after children procedures.

If the young person does not accept the offer of assistance under Section 20 Children’s Social Care will:

  • Advise and facilitate the young person to contact the Housing Options Team as soon as possible.
  • Assess the capability of the young person to make this decision.
  • Inform the housing options team by email, including the reasons why the young person refused assistance.
  • Review the young person’s holistic needs and whether they require on-going support under s17.
  • Inform the proprietor or host if the young person has been placed in emergency accommodation of the date children’s services will cease payment.

Within Cambridgeshire consideration will also be given to a referral to advocacy services for the young person to ensure that they have the opportunity to discuss their situation with an independent person.

Please note:

“The powers of local authorities to provide accommodation under Section 17 cannot be used to substitute for their duty to provide accommodation under Section 20(1) of the 1989 Act to homeless 16 and 17 year olds in need. Children’s Services do not have the option of choosing under which provision they should provide accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year olds. Section 20 involves an evaluative judgment on some matters but not a discretion.”

Housing Options Team

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 CA 1989 the Housing Options Team will:

  • If the young person is still within the relief duty and has accepted s20, then a decision will be issued ending the relief duty due to them having accommodation available. If the decision on s20 is reached whilst the main housing duty is being assess a non- priority decision letter will be issued due to them being a looked after child.
  • Assist children’s services in finding suitable Section 20 placement options, if requested to do so.
  • If the young person has previously been placed in emergency accommodation by the Housing Options Team, notify the benefits team that housing benefit entitlement has ceased, and the proprietor/host that invoices should be directed to children’s services from this point on.

If the young person has not accepted an offer of assistance under Section 20 the Housing Options Team will:

  • Treat the young person’s application in the same way as if a duty is owed under Section 17 but section 20 does not apply (see below).

If no duty is owed under Section 17 the Housing Options Team will (There will be very few instances where a homeless young person or a young person threatened with homelessness would not be a child in need, as set out in this document):

  • Treat the young person’s application in the same way as if a duty is owed under Section 17 but section 20 does not apply (see below)

If a duty is owed under Section 17 BUT Section 20 does NOT apply the Housing Options Team will (this will usually be because the young person is not homeless or the young person has refused s20 assistance):

  • Determine duties owed under Housing Act 1996.
  • If the young person is still in need of accommodation, assist the young person in completing their application for housing benefit if they have been occupying children’s services emergency accommodation placement.
  • If there is a change in circumstances and the young person subsequently becomes homeless, they should be re-referred for a further assessment.

If a duty is found to assist under the Housing Act 1996 the Housing Options Team will:

  • Follow local housing authority procedures for interim/ temporary accommodation and eventual discharge of duty.
  • If applicable liaise with Children’s Social Care about the young person’s support needs.

If no duty is found to assist under the Housing Act (for instance, if the young person is found to be intentionally homeless) the Housing Options Team will:

  • 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 Children’s Social Care (if no relationship currently exists with Children’s services) and, if necessary re-refer the young person for further assessment. If a relationship with Children’s Services already exists discuss with the lead professional or allocated Safeguarding Social Work Unit.

Where a young person aged 16 or 17 is homeless and requires accommodation, does not wish to be accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 Act but is subsequently not owed an accommodation duty by a housing authority, for example because they have refused a suitable offer of accommodation or are found to be intentionally homeless, then Childrens Social Care should, given the change in circumstances, once again ask them their wishes regarding being accommodated under section 20.

If the young person still does not wish to be accommodated and is judged to have the capacity to make that decision, if it is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the young person who is in need, they should be offered accommodation under section 17 of the 1989 Act until they no longer require accommodation or they reach the age of 18. In such cases Childrens Social Care and Housing Services will need to work together with the young person to ensure that they are not placed at risk of homelessness as they approach age 18.

Youth Offending Service

If a young person aged 16 or 17 years has been given a custodial sentence or custodial remand, their Youth Offending Service Case Manager must through the Asset plus process conducted at the start of, and during the custodial sentence, identify any need for accommodation on release. If a young person is remanded in custody (Youth Detention Accommodation), they will automatically become a looked after child (LAC) and should be allocated a social worker to address any accommodation needs alongside the Youth Offending Service.

If the young person has an allocated Social Care or TYSS involvement at the start of their custodial sentence, the team will work with the Youth Offending Service Case Manager and the relevant secure establishment throughout the sentence period, ensuring that the young person’s needs on release for assistance under the Children Act are assessed when appropriate. If the young person is a Looked after Child, the social worker will take the lead in planning post-release accommodation from the start of the custodial sentence onwards, combining the sentence planning meeting process within procedures relevant to looked after children (i.e. LAC Reviews). The Independent Reviewing Officer will continue to monitor and care planning for the young person.

If the young person is not allocated to a CSC or TYSS Team and it becomes apparent to the Youth Offending Case Manager that they will not have suitable accommodation on release, the Case Manager will complete a referral to the Integrated Front Door as soon as possible and ideally at least two months before the young person’s release. The Asset plus document will always be referenced on ‘The First Contact’ and relevant information from Asset plus including risk and vulnerability factors will be incorporated into the referral form.

The Youth Offending Service’s will continue to have an active role in preventing homelessness and will continue to offer preventative services to young people and their families where appropriate. In the event of a young person becoming homeless, the YOS will maintain their involvement alongside Housing and Children’s Services/TYSS colleagues as appropriate.

Problem Resolution Procedure

Legislation, Case Law and Government guidance emphasise the importance of the Joint Protocol as the means by which the statutory services will be held to account to Homeless and Vulnerable Young People for the service that they provide.

The most likely place where conflicts will arise is over the young person’s initial assessment. This is why our Joint Protocol for Addressing the Needs of Homeless 16 and 17 year olds has concentrated so much on the First Contact.

There are three parties to that assessment –

In Cambridgeshire this will be the County, the District and the Young Person.

In Peterborough this will be Childrens Services, Peterborough housing department and the Young Person.

We have agreed to use the Problem Resolution Procedure as published by Cambridgeshire Safeguarding Board which can be found on the Cambridgeshire LSCB website, and the young person can use the complaints procedure.

Disagreements could arise in a number of areas but are most likely to arise around:

  • Thresholds
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • The need for action
  • Communication

Problem resolution is an integral part of professional co-operation and joint working to safeguard and promote the well-being of children and young people. While often a positive sign of developing thinking within a dynamic process this can be reflected in the immediate term as a lack of clarity in procedures or approaches. Professional disagreement is only dysfunctional if not resolved in a constructive and timely fashion.

Attempts at problem resolution may leave one worker or agency believing that the child remains at risk of significant harm. This person or agency has responsibility for communicating such concerns through agreed channels.

It is the responsibility of every professional to “problem solve”. The aim must be to resolve professional disagreement at the earliest opportunity and as swiftly as possible always keeping in mind that the child and young person’s safety and welfare is the paramount consideration.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership Board is clear that there must be respectful challenge whenever a professional or agency has concern about the action or inaction of another.

For further details on Problem Resolution please refer to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership Board policy on the website

Review Timescales

This Protocol will be reviewed annually by the Housing Options Services of the local authorities, the Adolescent Service in Cambridgeshire and in Peterborough and the Assessment Service in both Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Appendix 1: Initial Assessment Script


To ensure that there is a consistent response to Young People regardless of whether they present at Children’s Services or to a Housing Service and regardless of where they live in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough.


I am going to ask you some questions to understand the situation in respect of you presenting as homeless. I will need to ask some personal questions so that we can work out how best to help you and I will need to make some notes. I will use these to fill in a form that will start the process of getting you some help. Are you ok with that?

  • Obtain basic demographics



Home Address:

Current Address:

Understanding the context:

The first thing is to establish where young person has been living and why they can no longer stay there. What needs to be understood is why the young person believes they can no longer live at home and whether there is any opportunity for young person to be at home to prevent homelessness.

It is important to understand if they are not living at home how long it is since they left home and where they have they been staying since this time. The following areas need to be covered:

Can you tell me where you have been and what has been going on?

Do you feel safe at home (where you have been staying)?

Can you tell me a bit more about why/why not?

What is going on at home (where you have been staying) that means you can’t go back?

If there are no safeguarding concerns: What could we do to help you to resolve the difficulties you are having at home?

If we phoned your parents and asked them if you could go back home, what do you think they would say?

Do you know what the housing options are for young people?

Other supplementary questions may be asked dependent on conversation

Support Needs and Risk

The next thing we need to establish is whether the young person is getting any help from anyone right now and consider if they need any extra support and who is best placed to do that.

We can offer help to sort things out with their parent(s) and be clear that it is common for young people to fall out with their parents and while it can take a bit of time to sort things out, it is much better to be at home or with family and plan your move away if that is what you need or want to do.

The following areas should be covered:

Are there any other agencies you are involved with or any other people you see who help you or give you support?

How are you feeling in yourself?

If you are concerned about a young person’s responses:

Can you tell me more about what is making you feel like that?

Is there anything that makes it better, is there anything that makes it worse?

Are you getting any support from any other professionals i.e. your GP or a therapist?

Do you have any concerns about alcohol or substance use?

Can you identify any support that you are not receiving now that you think would be helpful?

Finally we need to establish whether there the young person has been involved in any criminal activity or had any police involvement.

Are there any offences you can tell me about or is there anything you are waiting to hear about?

If Yes – ask about YOS involvement, any court dates, any orders in place

Immediate accommodation options

Can you go home tonight whilst we try to support you and your family to resolve your difficulties?

Have you somewhere to stay tonight?

What about any friends or family members, is there anyone you could stay with where you would feel safe? Can I help you sort that

Action & Next Steps

Initial Assessment Script is completed and a recommendation made as to what needs to happen next. This should involve a discussion between Housing Options Team and Childrens Services.

In Peterborough it will be the IROC team and in Cambridgeshire it will be the relevant Assessment Service.

The young person should give informed consent to the information provided being shared and needs to be informed that a fuller assessment will need to be undertaken – timescale 10 working days.

In Peterborough this assessment will be undertaken by the IROC team and in Cambridgeshire it is a joint assessment with the Housing Options team and the relevant Assessment Service (allocated worker within 24 hours).

The young person should be given a copy of the completed form and it should be shared with Childrens Services and Housing Options Team. The young person should be asked whether they require anyone else to have a copy of the information for example someone who might be supporting them, or would be able to support them regarding future meetings.

Cambridgeshire only – If you have not got someone you would like to come along, I can refer you to an independent person (NYAS) who can work with you to do this and who can make sure that your views are heard in any meetings or that you understand what is going on. Would you like me to do this?

If the outcome is that young person is genuinely homeless and there are no alternative options then temporary accommodation will need be sought whilst the 10 day assessment is undertaken and longer term needs are considered.

Appendix 2: Flowchart


[1] For those young people who are looked after for 13 weeks or more after their 14th birthday and are still a Child Looked After on or after their 16th birthday, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 applies. For those “qualifying” young people who do not meet the 13 week threshold for the above, Section 24 of the Children’s Act 1989 applies.