Placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal from September, the Education Secretary has announced.
Ofsted will be given extra powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered children’s homes under reforms unveiled by Gavin Williamson.
Ministers will also introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation for older children in care or care leavers, those who are aged 16 and over, to ensure the settings are consistently high quality.
But the Children’s Commissioner for England has called for the ban on unregulated accommodation for under-16s to be extended to include older teenagers as she said they will still be at risk of exploitation.
Anne Longfield warned that some teenage children in care live in “dangerous accommodation”, including hostels or caravan parks, and 17-year-olds can be “easy prey” for people who abuse or exploit children.
But the Department for Education (DfE) has said independent or semi-independent provision can be the right option for some older children where it is high-quality and meets their needs.
In February last year, the Government launched a consultation on banning under-16s from being placed in unregulated accommodation.
Regulations will be laid in Parliament on Friday for the ban to come into force in September, as part of the Government’s response to its consultation.
Statistics from the DfE suggest that 660 looked after children under the age of 16 were placed in independent or in semi-independent living accommodation across the year 2018-19.
Ofsted will be able to take quicker action to register or close down unregistered homes under the plans to give the watchdog more powers.
Mr Williamson has also announced that plans will be developed to support local authorities in creating more places in children’s homes amid pressures on some councils to find the right placement for a child.
He said: “Vulnerable children under 16 are too young for the type of accommodation that provides a place to stay but not the care and support that they need.
“The action taken today, supported by the sector and in response to their views, is an important step in making sure children in care are placed in settings that give them the highest chances of success.
“We know that for some older young people, independent or semi-independent accommodation can be right in helping them transition to adult life but these settings need to be consistently high quality.
“We cannot be complacent about the standards we expect to be met for children in our care.”
But Ms Longfield said the ban needed to “go further” and include under-18s.
She said: “There are too many teenage children in care living in completely unsuitable and sometimes dangerous accommodation, including hostels or caravan parks.
“Vulnerable 17-year-olds are sometimes placed in accommodation where they are easy prey for those who abuse or exploit children, and this change to the law will still leave them at risk.”
“At the heart of these problems is a chronic shortage of residential provision for children in care and this must be something that both the current independent care review and forthcoming government spending review rectifies,” Ms Longfield added.
Mike Thiedke, chief executive of charity Depaul UK, said: “Some 16 and 17-year-olds want to live in places where they have more independence – specialist young people’s supported accommodation can be the best option for these young people.
“Depaul UK provides this type of accommodation.
“We already have close local authority oversight and extensive internal policies and procedures to ensure we provide safe, supportive accommodation, and we believe other providers should operate with these controls in place to protect young people.”