Current legislation allows local authorities in Wales to house homeless 16 and 17 year-olds in B&B’s on an emergency basis. The End Youth Homelessness Cymru campaign, led by homeless charity Llamau, believes this practice is simply not acceptable and is putting children in danger.
This accommodation can often be shared with adults who have recently left prison and places young people at unacceptable risk of exploitation, abuse and worse. Guidance on the practice differs between England and Wales; in England the Department of Schools, Education and Skills issued guidance in 2010 that says B&B accommodation “is not considered suitable for 16 and 17 year-olds even on an emergency accommodation basis.”
Welsh Government guidance issued in April this year only says local authorities should “avoid using B&B accommodation wherever possible.” It adds: “Where B&B accommodation has been used in an emergency situation,applicants should be moved to more suitable accommodation as soon as possible.”
The guidance does not take into consideration the needs of 16 and 17 year-olds. Frances Beecher, chief executive of Llamau, urged the Welsh Government to stop the practice.
“To put just one young person in this situation is unacceptable,” she said, "let's end this today.”
EYH Cymru estimates approximately 96 and 106 16 and 17 year-olds in Wales were accommodated in B&Bs during 2013-14. However, there are no concrete figures on the scale of the activity as there is no consistent measure used by local authorities. EYH Cymru says more research on this issue is essential to gauge the true extent of B&B use in Wales.
It is calling on the Welsh Government to:
- Create clear, unambiguous guidance prohibiting the use of B&B accommodation to alleviate emergency homelessness for 16 and 17 year-olds;
- Establish a safety network so vulnerable homeless children aged 16 and 17 can access accommodation across Wales, rather than be placed in B&Bs.
- The EYH Cymru partnership will work with the Welsh Government to develop such a network using their 24/7 projects.
These 24-hour supported projects provide support in an environment where young people who have had traumatic experiences can begin to move toward independent living. The cost of placing a young person in bed and breakfast accommodation is approximately £335 per week, compared to the cost of supported accommodation of approximately £579 per week.
To place an estimated 96 young people in supported accommodation instead would cost approximately just £30,000 per year more than is currently spent.
However, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential costs of dealing with more complex problems that vulnerable homeless young people could face; it costs the NHS £3,727 per year to treat one person for drug addiction and £2,015 for alcohol dependency. To deliver services for young people who become street homeless costs £8,605 per year.
Frances Beecher, chief executive of Llamau, said: “Being homeless is scary. It would be frightening at any age, but at 16 or 17 it is terrifying.
“Imagine then being put in a B&B where you don't know anyone, where you don't have a lock on your door, where you can't even have a shower, where you can't even heat up a tin of soup.
“Or where there are adults making comments at you, shouting and swearing at you. There's no one to call, you don't have a phone or any credit on you if you do. This is what's happening to children right now in Wales. We are saying this is simply wrong. We are putting children in danger.”
Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, who is backing the campaign, said: “This issue affects one of the most vulnerable groups in our society who need safe and secure housing and ongoing support.
“There can be no justification for placing care leavers at risk of physical, emotional or sexual harm through unsuitable orunsafe accommodation. I fully support this campaign and consider this a high priority issue to be addressed.”