Publication Machinery of government Social security 13 May, 2019

Preventing youth homelessness: an assessment of local approaches

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This report examines how well local authorities in England prevent and respond to youth homelessness.

It assesses how far the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) has created a coordinated response to youth homelessness across public services, and considers ways local and national government can build upon legislation to establish a more holistic and preventative approach to youth homelessness.

Watch our video for an overview of the report:

The impact of the HRA

Youth homelessness is predictable, meaning that interventions can be put in place before young people are in crisis. However, the current legal landscape is geared towards crisis point. Local housing authorities have been given responsibility for preventing homelessness but are rarely the first port-of-call for young people at risk. For early intervention to be effective, other public bodies, including schools, youth services, and leaving care teams have a crucial role to play.

Although the HRA marks a step in the right direction, the extent to which it has been embraced as a wider opportunity to cooperate to prevent homelessness has been mixed. How local authorities have chosen to meet new duties varies significantly from authority to authority and, too often, good practice continues to be the result of diligent individuals going above and beyond their statutory duties. For homelessness prevention to be genuinely seen as a responsibility that extends beyond the local housing authority, the legal framework needs to be revised to better reflect this.

Building on the HRA

While the HRA represents a necessary step-change in homelessness legislation, it is the foundation on which local authorities can build and develop innovative solutions to tackle youth homelessness. As it stands, there is considerable variation in the approaches taken by local authorities to prevent youth homelessness, leading to a postcode lottery in the quality of service provision. This variation can be seen in the availability and quality of early intervention initiatives, such as family mediation and schools-based programmes, as well as the arrangements in place to work in collaboration with other services.

A stronger national presence is needed to support local efforts to tackle youth homelessness and variations in service quality. Crucially, this national agenda must be cross-departmental, moving from the assumption that homelessness is a peripheral issue for departments beyond the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Efforts must be made to tackle the structural causes of youth homelessness, including the lack of affordable housing and welfare restrictions facing young people, without which local efforts to tackle youth homelessness can only go so far.

Tackling short-termism

For local authorities to implement policies to prevent youth homelessness, they must be financed in a way that allows for long-term planning and sustained transformation. Funding must be sufficient to support large-scale policy changes such as the HRA, and also to sustain non-statutory services. Protected funding that is assured for longer periods of time can allow local authorities the security to develop effective policies to tackle youth homelessness. Central and local government must also be careful that the focus on ending rough sleeping does not divert attention away from preventing other, less visible forms of homelessness.


  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should require local authorities to record certain information about the referrals they receive under the duty to refer. At a minimum, this should include the referral body and the age range of the individual referred. This would help local authorities monitor what public bodies encounter young people at risk of homelessness, which could help local authorities to strengthen relationships with these services.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should extend the minimum requirements under section 213B of the Homelessness Reduction Act, which specifies what constitutes a referral under the duty to refer, to include at a minimum and with their consent, an individual’s date of birth and their date of expected homelessness. This will ensure that local authorities can identify individuals who have been referred through the duty to refer.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should require and resource local housing authorities to train public authorities with a duty to refer, to ensure these services can recognise and respond to early warning signs of young people at risk of becoming homeless. Public authorities with a duty to refer should be required to participate in this training.
  • Government should extend the duty to refer to a wider range of public bodies, such as schools, further education colleges, and the police, to reflect those that are well-placed to recognise the early warning signs of youth homelessness. Frontline services who sit outside this legal remit, such as GPs, should be encouraged to sign up to a voluntary “commitment to refer,” based on the model developed by the National Housing Federation.
  • The Cabinet Office in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office should produce guidance on what reasonable steps each department can take to prevent and relieve homelessness. These steps should be embedded within each department’s own legislative and regulatory framework to ensure legal accountability.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should update their guidance for local authorities with advice on how to prevent youth homelessness. The Ministry should also ensure that homelessness prevention strategies, which are created by local authorities, include a section specifically related to the needs of young people.
  • When creating a young person’s personalised housing plan, it should include, at a minimum, options for mediation or other accommodation, and clear advice on benefits, employment, mental health support. Anonymised personalised housing plans must also be available for audit from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure minimum standards are being adhered to.
  • A digital national youth homelessness service, to be available 24/7, should be established to provide advice and support to young people through online one-to-one chats, crisis messenger services, and monitored discussion boards.
  • Based on a review of reasonable steps that departments could take to prevent youth homelessness, a portion of funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice, and the Home Office should be pooled and ring-fenced to ensure that responsibility for tackling youth homelessness across government is shared.
  • Short-term grants for homelessness prevention should be replaced with longer, ring-fenced funding cycles to give local authorities more security to develop effective prevention practices.