Ending the use of unregulated accommodation

“Being in that type of environment was a living nightmare. The number of scary experiences I’ve faced while living there will probably stay with me forever.” – A care leaver describing their time in unregulated accommodation when they were 17 years old

Latest Update: Our submission to the Department for Education on unregulated accommodation

In July 2021, NYAS responded to the DfE consultation on new proposed standards for unregulated accommodation.

Alongside partners in the sector, we successfully persuaded the government to regulate all accommodation. However, the proposed regulation does not go far enough. Although the use of unregulated accommodation will be banned for some children in care from September 2021, children over 15 years old will be sent to live in accommodation that has been newly regulated under weak ‘national standards’.

The proposed national standards for 16 and 17 year-olds deliberately deny care to these children. Those currently living in unregulated accommodation will only be legally entitled to ‘support’ rather than care.

NYAS are once again grateful to BBC Newsnight for covering the proposed national standards in detail and for hosting NYAS Campaigns Adviser Charlotte to speak about her experiences of living in unregulated accommodation. You can watch their February 2021 broadcast here.

Read our full consultation submission to the Department for Education here.

About our Regulate! campaign

Unregulated provision is a type of accommodation used for children in care, usually aged 16 or 17. The number of children aged 16 or 17 placed in unregulated settings has more than doubled from 2,900 in 2009 to 6,100 children in 2019. Unlike children’s homes, Ofsted does not inspect these settings. The number of children in care aged 16 or 17 placed in unregulated settings has increased from 2,900 in 2009 to 6,100 in 2019.

Corporate parents have a duty to act in the best interests of children when deciding where they should live. The steep increase in unregulated placements, and the fears this has created among care-experienced young people, suggest that the wishes and feelings of children in care are not being properly considered.

NYAS has been at the forefront of campaigning on this issue and are pleased that the Government are taking it seriously. The Department for Education has been consulting on their proposals to reform unregulated accommodation for children in care.

Alongside our direct work with the Government to advise on this topic, we responded to their consultation setting out the points below.

To bring accommodation within the existing regulatory framework, NYAS has further advised that every provider must be subjected to formal Reg.44 visits, where an independent person writes a monthly report on how the home is operating, listing any concerns and agreeing an action plan with the providers. This would complement Ofsted inspections, and NYAS also suggested that providers could access funds from the Government to ease the shift to regulation. You can read our full response to the DfE consultation here.

The current situation risks a perfect storm. It is not a stretch to say that right now some of the country’s most vulnerable children are in unregulated accommodation of unknown quality, supported by unqualified staff or no staff at all.

These are children for whom the state has taken on the responsibility of parenting, so the test must be ‘would this be good enough for your child?’ Putting this test another way, ‘would you be comfortable placing your child in an unregulated home?’

How we got here

Throughout 2019, NYAS and other charities were campaigning against unregulated accommodation. We were very grateful for a series of BBC Newsnight investigations into ‘Britain’s Hidden Care Homes’ shining a much-needed light on this issue. You can watch their July 2019 investigation here.

NYAS has attended meetings with senior officials in the DfE to discuss how this issue can be tackled. As a children’s rights charity, we have always approached these meetings with the primary focus of ensuring children and young people have their say on any new policies that will affect their lives.

In October 2019 NYAS sent a briefing note to MPs ahead of a debate in Parliament on the issue of unregulated accommodation. We set out the context and key reasons that any homes responsible for children who are in care must be regulated. We also provided real quotes and case studies from young people we support so that their voices could directly shape the debate. Read the full briefing here.

NYAS led a group of over 40 care-experienced people, charities and organisations in March 2020 to call on the Government to protect the rights of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this open letter, we called for no child to be placed in unregulated accommodation, and requested a set of measures to better safeguard care-experienced children and young people during the pandemic.

While we are now working with the fourth Children’s Minister since our campaigning began, we are confident that the Government is taking this seriously and will continue to press for urgent action to keep children safe.