Guide - Section 17 support (help from social services)
This guide is general information only and should not replace individual advice. Please contact us for advice specific to your situation. This guidance is for people with children who cannot access benefits and housing.
You will find the download to the full guide to section 17 support produced in partnership with Hackney Migrant Centre, Project 17, NELMA and others at the bottom of this page.
People with leave with the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition and those without leave are not able to access social housing (council housing support) and most benefits such as Universal credit. A list of what benefits are restricted can be found here. Without access to the safety net, you may find that you find getting safe housing and enough money to pay for the basics difficult.
In this guide
What is Section 17 support
Section 17 refers to a piece of law (Section 17 Children Act 1989) that places a duty on councils to meet the needs of children in their area who are 'in need'. This can be for lots of reasons, but for people with NRPF or without leave, it can provide a safety net for housing and financial support.
Section 17 is also used to provide support to any child who is in need, including for instance, services provided to disabled children. It can provide other support such as family support.
The law says that councils can provide accommodation and financial support to meet children's needs and other kinds of support, dependant on your individual circumstances. Find out more about Section 17 support with this video from the charity Project 17.
Can you get Section 17 support?
To access section 17 support, your child(ren) need to be in 'need'. What this means is that something is affecting their health and development. For families with immigration problems, this could be things like insecure or unsafe housing, homelessness, not having enough money for things like food, clothes and travel to school.
There are some restrictions to accessing section 17 support (housing and financial). It is worth seeking specialist advice if you are worried. You may be able to access support if you;
You have leave to remain with a condition of NRPF.
You have no leave to remain, but have a pending application / appeal or are working towards one.
Your immigration status may affect the support you can receive from social services. However, a local authority must assess your child to see if they are 'in need' regardless of immigration status and should if you have no leave to remain do a second assessment, a 'human rights assessment' to explore whether your family can return to your country of origin. There may be barriers, such as pending applications or preparing one to the Home Office, or practical barriers like being heavily pregnant or medical reasons you cannot travel.
If you are destitute, social services should help you with accommodation and financial support whilst they do their assessments.
If you are an asylum seeker, support is usually different. Please see our short guide on asylum support.
It is important that you get immigration advice as soon as possible if you do not have leave to remain. You should do this before you approach the local authority for help unless it is an emergency (such as if you are your children are homeless).
Accessing section 17 support
You can speak to an organisation to help you with accessing section 17 support. We would usually recommend that people get advice where possible.
You can contact us.
There are other organisations you can contact in the downloadable leaflet below.
A caseworker or advisor can help you approach the local authority and request this kind of support for your family and give you advice about what to expect and how the process works. They can also help you with arranging immigration advice and other services to help you and your children.
You may wish to approach a council directly. If you do this, you approach the council where you live or where your children are present at the time you need support. If you do decide to approach a council directly, we recommend that you read the guide download below, which gives much more information on the process. The guide also contains a list of places where you can get immigration advice.
In an emergency out of hours, such as if you are made homeless on a weekend or evening and have nowhere for you and the children to go. You should contact the emergency duty team of your local council.
The child in need assessment
A child in need assessment is completed by a social worker and finds out lots of information about children and families to assess their needs. They will often see the children at home or in school or in the offices and will speak to parents and get their views. They may wish to see your child(ren) alone. They will ask lots of questions. They may also ask to see paperwork and documents;
You will be asked to give permission for social services to run checks and contact your child's school, nursery, your GP and the Home Office, along with any other organisations you are working with as part of the assessment. They will need to speak to other people in order to carry out a proper assessment of need.
Some social services departments will work with a fraud officer. They may not meet with you, but may make checks on your situation and provide information to the social worker assessing you.
Social services may run a credit check which shows your bank accounts, credit cards and other financial instruments.
Social services will check your immigration status and immigration history with the Home Office. Some councils have Immigration Officers from the Home Office who work with them. If you meet them, they should not give you immigration advice.
It is very important that you are open and honest with social services about your situation when you approach them for support. If social services think that you have not told them something, they may try and refuse support for your family. If they find something in the checks that you have not told them before, they should explain this and give you a chance to respond.
What to expect if you are given support
If social service decide to give you accommodation then they should provide you with accommodation. However, accommodation can be difficult for some families;
They may give you accommodation outside of the area you live in now. For example, you may face a long journey to school or being away from your support network.
Most accommodation that we see given to families is in shared accommodation with other people.
Sometimes, the accommodation is unsuitable and has problems.
If you do not have enough money for things like bills, social services should give you enough money to cover these costs or pay for them directly.
Refusing accommodation provided can be risky and if you have unsuitable accommodation or are thinking about refusing accommodation, you should contact an organisation for advice about this. If you are not able to get advice in time, we recommend accepting the accommodation offered and then seeking advice on challenging it as soon as possible afterwards.
Challenging the location of accommodation provided can be difficult. However, some things can make a stronger case.
Your child has health needs or a disability and attends specialist provision in the area you lived.
Your child is taking important exams like GCSE's and their school is far away and it is affecting their studies.
There are medical needs that make it difficult to travel.
There are other special reasons that make it particularly hard for you to be housed further away.
If there are problems with the suitability of the accommodation, such as damp, mould, infestations or things that make the accommodation unsafe, you should speak to the property manager and your caseworker at the council straight away. You can also seek advice from your caseworker if you have one. You could take photos and videos of the property problems as evidence.
Subsistence (financial support)
If you are given subsistence then they should provide you with financial support. There is no fixed amount for financial support but it should be 'enough' to meet a child's assessed needs (from the child in need assessment). The experiences of families we work with are that financial support is not much money and covers only basics. Most families receive their subsistence regularly on a prepayment card but this can be different depending on the council.
There may be some situations where financial support does not meet the needs of a child or there are special circumstances where they need to rethink and adjust subsistence amounts. For instance, if your travel costs increase as a result of accommodation or if you need special items for a disabled child. You can raise issues with your subsistence with your social worker, or contact your caseworker at a charity for help if you have one. If you need advice on this you can seek advice from an organisation.
If you are refused support by social services, are worried about support being stopped, or you are not being listened to.
If you feel like you are not be listened to about the support you are being provided, have been refused support or social services are threatening to withdraw the support you are being provided we recommend that you speak to an organisation straight away.
You can contact us.
There are other organisations you can contact in the downloadable leaflet below.
Some people need legal support when things happen with social services, such as refusing to support or withdrawing support. You can access a community care solicitor directly (some are listed in the download below) or you can speak to a charity above who can manage your case and source you a community care solicitor.
Sometimes families we work with who approach social services for help feel that they haven't been treated very well, or report difficulties about not being listened to or being treated in a way they find upsetting.
Also, people may feel that problems about their support are not being addressed.
When this happens you can make a complaint about social services. You can do this by writing to the council and telling them in detail about your concerns and worries. You can find the details for the local councils and their complaints process on each council's website.
If you are worried that your complaint or support is not being taken seriously. You can also speak to your local mp. You can find your local MP here.