Section 20 accommodation

This page provides information on the duties of the Local Authority to provide accommodation to children under the age of 18. It includes information of how the Local Authority will assess a child and the types of accommodation that can be provided.

A Local Authority are under a duty to provide accommodation for a young person if certain conditions are met. 

In which circumstances might a young person require accommodation? 

The young person may have had a disagreement with his/her parents and feel that he/she can no longer live in the same house, or the parents may have locked the young person out or asked them to leave. This can be a distressing time. However, there are options available.

What accommodation options are available?

The young person may choose to stay with a friend’s family or another member of his/her extended family for a time. This could be acceptable as a short term option. This could be part of a kinship care arrangement. Please see our page on Family and Friends Care for more information.

Depending on the age of the young person the host family may choose to apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order so one or more adults in the family have Parental Responsibility for the young person and legal status as a carer. (Child Arrangements Orders normally end at the age of 16, Special Guardianship Orders normally end at the age of 18.) The host family or relative can use a solicitor to assist in this process or represent themselves in court. Please see our page on Special Guardianship for more details. 

The child or young person may also live with a person they are not related to but must inform Children’s Services of the arrangement as soon as possible. Please see our page on Private Fostering for more information.

Alternatively, if the above is not an option the young person can seek support from the Children’s Services. Under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, the Local Authority has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need. The young person, their parents, extended family or friend, or advocate can approach Children’s Services for help in finding accommodation. For this to happen it must be established that the young person is a ‘child in need’ and meets the Local Authorities eligibility criteria. If a young person is a ‘child in need’ then Children’s Services must provide support to the young person. 

What happens next when additional support is required? 

The Local Authority must carry out an assessment to find out whether the young person is a ‘child in need’ and if so what services the young person requires. A young person will be deemed a ‘child in need’ where they have substantial needs, for example, there are concerns with regards to their health, safety or development. A young person who does not have any accommodation will be deemed a child in need. 

The Local Authority’ assessment should happen if a referral has been made by a family friend, a parent who cannot cope with the young person’s behavior or because the young person has presented himself to Local Authority’s Children’s Services as homeless.

Children under 16 are not eligible for housing from the housing authority. 

What happens if the young person cannot find anywhere to live?

If the young person cannot find anywhere to live he/she may be accommodated by the Local Authority. This is known as Section 20 accommodation (S20 Children Act 1989) and the young person acquires ‘looked after’ status. Children’s Services have a duty to take such steps which are reasonably practicable to accommodate the young person. 

When a young person is accommodated under Section 20 the Children’s Service are responsible for the young person and must determine who the young person should live with, for example, extended family members or friends. Children’s Services will accommodate the young person in the following instances: 

  • where the parents are in prison
  • where there has been breakdown between the young person and parents
  • when the young person is homeless.

Children’s Services will first consider the young person’s parents’ ability to provide accommodation as long as there is no risk of harm. If the parents cannot provide suitable accommodation or are deemed to be a risk to the young person then Children’s Services will consider the young person’s wider family and friends or consider placing the young person with foster carers. Children’s Services shall consider all those persons who can provide accommodation for the young person.

In an emergency situation Children’s Services, provided they have carried out basic checks, can place the young person with relatives or friends for a certain time without them being an approved foster carer. When Children’s Services accommodate a young person they will try to ensure they are near to their family, any subsequent move does not affect the young person’s education and they are accommodated with any siblings.

When do Children’s Services have a duty to accommodate under Section 20?

The Local Authority will have to accommodate under section 20 if:

  • No-one has Parental Responsibility for the young person or
  • The young person is lost or abandoned or
  • The person who has been caring for the young person is unable to continue to provide suitable care and accommodation.

Who has to agree to Section 20 accommodation?


The Court of Appeal has held in a 2017 case that there is no express statutory requirement for a local authority to obtain consent from a parent before applying section 20. Instead, its power to provide care is limited under section 20(7) where a parent “objects”. Therefore, a failure to obtain informed consent from the outset is not of itself a statutory breach.

(London Borough of Hackney v Williams)

However, in the majority of circumstances it is still recognised as good practice for the local authority to obtain written consent before placing a child under S.20 accommodation. The Local Authority should be clear, co-operative and sensible in the way that they approach this area of the law. 

Can parents remove the young person from Local Authority accommodation?

Yes. There is nothing the Local Authority can do to stop this unless it considers the young person to be at risk of significant harm if he/she is returned to the parents. If that is the case the Local Authority have the option of applying to court for an Interim Care Order. Please see our page on ‘Care Orders‘ for further information in this area. 

What will the Local Authority consider before accommodating a child under Section 20?

The Local Authority will consider:

  • who is making the order
  • whether the child is in need
  • whether the child in the Local Authority area
  • whether the child needs accommodation and whether that is due to the grounds given above where a duty arises
  • the child’s wishes and feelings
  • whether any person with Parental Responsibility objects to the Local Authority accommodating the young person under section 20. 

The Local Authority when accommodating a young person above the age of 16 must consider the young person’s views. 

What steps can the Local Authority take if they believe the young person is suffering harm or is at risk of harm?

Children’s Services may undertake child protection procedures, such as carrying out a section 47 assessment. This means that Children’s Services must carry out an investigation when they have reasonable cause to believe that a young person living in their area has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm.

The investigation will involve an assessment of the young person’s needs, and the ability of those caring for the young person to meet their needs. The purpose of this investigation is to decide whether Children’s Services should take any action to safeguard or promote the young person’s welfare.

The young person’s parents will be interviewed, as well as the young person (unless they are considered to be too young). Information from the young person’s school, youth worker or doctor may also be looked at. If Children’s Services are carrying out an investigation under section 47, it is important that parents co-operate with the social worker.

What are the types of accommodation the Local Authority may provide?

Family or friends

The Local Authority may place the young person with extended family or a family friend. This may be a short term solution to allow the young person to remain with known people, and to encourage reintegration into the family home.

Foster care

The Local Authority may place a young person with a foster carer as part of their family. They may live alongside the foster carer’s own children, or other children who are classed as “looked after”.

Residential care

This is commonly where children stay in large accommodation with several other children. The young person will be allocated a key worker who will have regular meetings with the young person, there will usually be a team to supervise the children throughout the day and night.

Will parents have to pay if a young person is accommodated by Children’s Services?

Where a young person is being accommodated by Children’s Services, the parents can be charged for the support provided where this is reasonable to do so. 

The parents remain financially responsible for their son or daughter even though they are living elsewhere.

Will friends and family receive financial support if the child is placed with them?

If the Local Authority agrees to accommodate the young person under section 20 Children’s Act 1989, the young person may be placed with friends or family who will act as foster carers and they may receive a fostering allowance from the Local Authority.

The host family would not have Parental Responsibility for the young person and therefore major decisions affecting the child’s upbringing would still be made by those with Parental Responsibility, i.e, the parents of the young person. 

Useful contacts

Shelter are able to provide advice on accommodation and housing: 0808 800 4444