The Children’s Society has revealed that an estimated 12,000 homeless 16 and 17-year-olds ask councils for help with housing every year, but half are turned away.
The figures are based on Freedom of Information requests sent to 353 local councils, with the charity receiving responses from 259.
The results show that as many as 80 per cent of these teenagers do not receive accommodation, while many of those who ask councils for help do not even receive an assessment of their needs – something that is a legal requirement for councils to provide.
These teenagers also rarely get the same support as children in care, such as access to an advocate or financial support, the findings show.
The lack of support means that teenagers are often forced to go back to abusive family homes or, with no permanent home, they find themselves at much greater risk of sexual abuse or being driven into crime.
Furthermore, the teenagers often faced risks even if the councils helped them. Of those that were accommodated, councils placed eight per cent in bed and breakfasts – against government guidance. It is well-documented, the charity says, that sexual predators and drug dealers often target B&Bs and hostels.
The charity is now calling for councils to work together to ensure all 16 and 17-year-olds seeking help for homelessness are identified and assessed. It wants the government to give this group of young people the same protection as care-leavers.
Liam Hill, 22, a youth mentor, became homeless at 16 after his relationship with his mother broke down.
He explained: “I was passed from pillar to post and given no support from the council. They put me in a cramped, cold room in a B&B that had no hot water, then in a hostel where people tried to sell me drugs all the time.
“After an argument with one of the other lads at the hostel, I was chucked out with nowhere to go. It was the middle of the night and pouring with rain and I ended up sleeping in an outside toilet. The council then put me back in a hostel. I felt like a piece of rubbish that had been dumped in the first place the council could find, not a teenager in desperate need of support and a safe place to live.”
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said the situation was a “national disgrace”.
He added: “These teenagers are being hung out to dry. Few have the money or resources to find new accommodation and their options are limited. At best they might rely on the goodwill of friends or family, at worst they may be forced to return to an unsafe home or to live on the streets.
“They are facing huge dangers from predators who seek to abuse or exploit them. Councils need to do much more to protect these vulnerable teenagers. Every teenager deserves a safe place to live.”