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BBC highlights continued illegal use of unregulated placements for children in care

Almost one year on from a ban on unregulated placements of children under the age of 16 coming into force in September 2021, a BBC News investigation has highlighted that these types of placements are still being widely used for children in Local Authority care.

Reforms in children’s social care

Following amendments to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, it has been illegal to place children under 16 years of age in an unregulated placement. This ban came into force on 9 September 2021 after a government consultation on the issue of reform to unregulated provision.

The types of placements that are now banned for under-16s are ones that are not registered children’s homes. This encompasses independent and semi-independent living or supported accommodation since these types of placements do not have to be inspected by or registered with Ofsted. It is also illegal to operate a children’s home providing care and accommodation if it is not registered (and this was the case prior to the regulation amendments).

Supporting children in care

The aim of the new regulation was to ensure that younger children in care are supported in a suitable setting to meet their needs while allowing semi-independent accommodation to continue for those aged 16 and 17. The government’s rationale for this is that semi-independent or supported living can be the right option for some older children to develop independence as they transition out of the care system but is not appropriate for children under 16 who require full-time care.

Critics of the reform highlight that this could create a two-tier system and leave some older looked-after children with minimal support and at risk in potentially unsuitable settings. Our solicitors often help young people to navigate the care system to obtain an adequate assessment and appropriate support.

Unsuitable placements

Prior to the regulation there had been concerns that a number of children under 16 were being placed in unsuitable accommodation and were therefore not receiving the support and care required. However, since the prohibition was introduced last year, it appears this practice has continued with at least 120 children being placed in unregulated homes, some of them miles away from their siblings and school. This information came to light following responses to freedom of information requests made by the BBC to 141 Local Authorities.

There are exceptions to the rules which relate to holiday or activity-based provision and there are concerns these may allow for circumvention of the ban, with examples of children being placed in caravans, on narrowboats and even in tents. These can often be short term placements resulting in multiple moves for the child and therefore not providing the necessary stability needed by vulnerable young people.

There are also issues with providers operating as children’s homes without being registered, sometimes due to being unaware that they provide the level of care which requires registration. In addition, the lack of available regulated placements for under-16s has led some Local Authorities to continue use unregulated placements as ‘crisis’ placements although this does not exist within the law and does not change the legality of the placement.

Lack of enforcement

Enforcement appears to be an issue. Ofsted has the power to prosecute providers operating as children’s homes without registration as well as to review the decisions Local Authorities make about where they place looked-after children but, as yet, no legal action has been taken since the introduction of the ban.

It remains unclear how many children continue to be placed in unregulated placements and if the new ban is doing anything to help the vulnerable young people it is intended to protect.

How we can help

We have a team of solicitors who are experienced in representing parents, other relatives and children in cases where a Local Authority has applied to take a child into care. We can provide guidance and advice throughout the whole process and can also assist in applying to discharge a care order in some circumstances. For a confidential discussion, contact Rachel Addison-Child on 0207 426 0400 or email


This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please note that the law may have changed since the date this article was published. You should always take legal advice relating to your individual circumstances.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.