What is Unregulated Supported Living?
Unregulated supported living is a type of accommodation that is sometimes used to house children in care. Most of the young people living in unregulated accommodation are aged 16 or 17.
As the name suggests, young people living in unregulated supported living receive support rather than a full service of care. Unregulated accommodation typically provides support to live independently without delivering full-time care. As a result, many young people are not having their needs met, and become incredibly isolated without a support network to fall back on.
One of the most concerning things about unregulated accommodation is that Ofsted does not inspect these settings. Under the Care Standards Act 2000, Ofsted is responsible for regulating establishments that provide social care services for children.
Settings that benefit from Ofsted inspections include children’s homes, where children can live until the age of 18. As a result, children in care aged 16-17 who live in children’s homes are deserving of proper standards of living, whilst those in unsupported accommodation are not offered the same benefits. This hardly seems fair.
There are no legal minimum standards for unregulated supported living to meet. This leads to a shocking inconsistency in the quality across these homes. This accommodation typically comprises apartment blocks, but it can also include caravans, tents, and even barges.
Unregulated Accommodation: The Facts
As corporate parents, local authorities have a duty to act in the best interests of the children they are responsible for. The welfare of each child should be put first 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.
- The number of 16- and 17-year-old children placed in unregulated settings has more than doubled over the past decade. In 2009, 2,900 children lived in unregulated accommodation, jumping to 6,100 children in 2019. That’s an increase of 210%.
- From January 2019 to December 2020, approximately 10,000 children in care were placed into unregulated supported living across 86 local authorities. At least 20 placements were in tents or caravans, 17 in hostels, and 7 in barges. (Sky News, 2021)
- Since April 2018, at least 14 children in care have died in unregulated accommodation, with many of them taking their own lives.
The current situation risks a perfect storm. 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.
Too many children are being put at risk and facing isolation thanks to unregulated accommodation. This is why NYAS’ Regulate! campaign is fighting to make a change.
Time to Ban Unregulated Accommodation for Children in Care
NYAS is proud to have been at the forefront of the campaigning efforts in regards to unregulated accommodation. We have been working directly with the UK government to enact change.
In our response to the Department of Education’s consultation on the issue, we have provided the following recommendations:
- Ban the use of unregulated accommodation for ALL children in care. All children must be protected, so any new standards must include 16 and 17-year-olds in care.
- Care experienced children and young people must be meaningfully consulted, to directly shape the standards that will affect their lives.
- Accommodation providers must be accountable. They should be subjected to independent regulation by Reg.44 visitors and inspection by Ofsted.
- Any new standards for accommodation must be enforceable, enshrined in legislation or statutory instruments.
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.
Young Care Leaver, Lived in Unregulated Accommodation at the Age of 17
Regulate! Campaign Updates
In July 2021, NYAS responded to the Department for Education’s 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 is 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. Their February 2021 broadcast is available to watch online.
You can also read our full consultation submission to the Department for Education.
NYAS led a group of over 40 care experienced people, charities and organisations to make a change. We called 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.
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 quotes and case studies from young people we support who have experienced unregulated supported living. We wanted to ensure that their voices could directly shape the debate. The full briefing is available to read online.
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’, which highlighted this issue to the general public. You can watch their July 2019 investigation here.
NYAS attended meetings with senior officials in the Department for Education to discuss how this issue can be tackled. As a children’s rights charity, our primary focus during these meetings has always been to make sure that children and young people share their opinions on any new policies that will affect their lives.