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Unregistered and unregulated provision - what's the difference?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: children looked after, children's homes

Today’s report from the Howard League for Penal Reform raises some important issues about the care system and children’s homes. One area of concern is provision for children that is not regulated by Ofsted, and the safety of the children who use it.

I’m often asked about unregistered and unregulated provision. Many people are rightly concerned about where these children are living and whether there are enough safeguards in place.

What are unregistered and unregulated provision?

Many people are unsure what we mean by unregulated and unregistered provision, and often confuse the two. They’re different things.

Unregulated provision is allowed in law. This is when children (usually over the age of 16) need support to live independently rather than needing full-time care. Ofsted do not regulate this type of provision.

It should be used as a stepping stone to independence, and only ever when it’s in a child’s best interests. For many children, it’s the right choice. Some children do not want to live with foster parents or live in a children’s home. For some unaccompanied asylum-seeking children this can be the right option too, but not for all.

Unregistered provision is when a child who’s being provided with some form of ‘care’ is living somewhere that is not registered with Ofsted. This is illegal. Once a provider delivers a care element as well as accommodation, they must register as a children’s home. It’s an offence not to.

What does ‘care’ mean? It is not defined in law. It is not just about the age of the child, although that’s a factor. It is about a child’s vulnerability and the level of help that they need. If a child does need care, then the service they’re getting is very likely to need registration as a children’s home. Certainly, if children are under constant supervision then this is likely to be ‘care’.

It’s also not about how long the child lives there. There is an all too common myth that if you only provide care for 28 days you do not need to register – this is not true! It does not matter how long you provide accommodation for. If you’re providing care as well as accommodation, then you need to register.

Supported living

The most common type of unregulated provision is supported living. This is accommodation where children are visited and get some support as they move towards independence.

Supported living is not regulated by Ofsted. It’s for local authorities, as ‘corporate parents’, to make sure any placements are safe and suitable for their child to live in. They should make good decisions for children, as would be expected of any parent.

We know there is some high-quality supported living that makes a difference to children’s lives. But we are concerned that some of it is poor quality, and is not doing all it needs to do for children.

There are many calls for Ofsted to regulate supported living. At first this might seem an easy solution to address the concerns about the safety of children. We all want more high-quality provision and good decision-making for children.

Regulation could help local authorities with that, but are there other safeguards we should be using too? The first step has got to be that all local authorities take the right steps to make sure that the children they are responsible for are living in safe and suitable places.

Such a change would need very careful thought about its proportionality and impact, including working through any unintended consequences. We want good quality support for children, but we don’t want to reduce choice or capacity, or increase cost at a time when budgets are stretched.

We are not arguing against raising standards in this area. Ultimately, it is a matter for government. If after weighing up the choices and consequences the answer from government is ‘yes’ to regulation, how should this differ from children’s homes regulation?

What we all want is for children to have that right ‘stepping stone’ from care to independence. Something that sets them in the right direction with the right support.

There are good quality supported living providers out there. I do not want anyone to think that all unregulated/supported living provision is poor – that is not the case. Many providers offer excellent support to children – equipping them well for their futures.

Unregistered provision

The staff at an unregistered provider may not realise that they need to register with Ofsted. This can happen when a supported living provider has extended what they do without recognising that they’ve crossed the line into providing care. It’s also common in short-term arrangements or crisis responses when a placement for a child needs to be found quickly.

But this is not true of all the places we see. Some providers are wilfully not registering. We want local authorities to know which providers are not registered, so that they can make the best decisions about where to place children.

It’s clearly not right that some of our most vulnerable children with very complex needs are living in places with the least oversight; where we do not know if the people caring for them are suitable or skilled enough to meet their needs.

Some of this is about poor decisions and poor oversight. Not every local authority is taking all the steps that they should to make sure that children are living somewhere that’s good quality.

Part of this is to do with capacity. We know there’s simply not enough provision in the secure estate and specialist mental health services. This is having a significant impact on options for children and the decisions that are made for them.

In some areas there is not enough good quality provision to go around, and many children are living further away from home than they need to. This is true of supported living accommodation as well.

We also have a changing market with increasingly bigger providers, but our regulatory powers reflect the provider market of previous decades. No organisation has the responsibility to oversee the market for children in the same way that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) does for adults. For example, the CQC have a specific role to look out for worries about the financial viability of the largest providers. We are working with Department for Education colleagues to look at the legislation and our powers to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

Unregistered provision is an issue across England, not just in one area. Though it does seem to be happening more in some places than others, possibly because of the price of property.

Is unregistered provision cheaper? Are local authorities saving money? Not particularly. Cost does not seem to be a factor.

What is Ofsted doing?

In all regions, our regulatory inspectors have been visiting suspected unregistered provision, interviewing providers, and being clear when people need to apply and/or stop operating.

We are also looking at the decisions local authorities make as part of our inspections of local authority children’s services departments. We want to know how local authorities are making decisions about where children live and what scrutiny they’re giving to those places.

We are also considering how we best use our regulatory powers, including the power to prosecute providers that are persistently avoiding registration.

My question to those people that avoid registration – what is it you are worried about? Why do you not want to register? Surely if you were doing the right thing for children then you would have nothing to fear?

And my question to corporate parents – do you know where all the children you are responsible for are living? And is it good enough? We owe it to each and every child – regardless of age – to make sure that it is.

Yvette Stanley is Ofsted's National Director for Social Care. Follow Yvette on Twitter.

Keep up-to-date with social care news at Ofsted by signing up for email alerts. You can also follow Ofsted on Twitter.


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  1. Comment by Linda Cooper posted on

    I have just seen Newsnight on BBC and was shocked to hear that we have unregistered and unregulated provision for children, For pities sake these children have had it tough enough to end up in care, the very least we can do is give them the best care possible. Unregistered and unregulated care should not happen. We need to change the law; further I believe young people between 18 and 25 years who have been in care still need our support just as we would support our own children.

  2. Comment by Maggie Danesfahani posted on

    Young people in care are supposed to be in contact and supported by their local authority until they are 25. The BBC reporting was biased in stating the places they were investigating were 'unregistered children's homes' they were not. They were 16 plus accommodation supposed to provide a stepping stone to young people living independently. Social workers are supposed to continue to meet with young people every six weeks and at the least every three months. If this is the case how can they allow young people to live in accommodation that is not fit for purpose? In some cases, they move young people from good children's homes as soon as they are 16. This is financial-based decision making. If young people are found to be living in poor accommodation on these visits then the local authority is the one who should be held responsible. Ofsted has made great strides in its regulation of children's homes. Children's home providers have an 80% good or outstanding rating. The same cannot be said of local authorities. It's time to stop the blaming and shaming and work toward a system that always has young people at the top of the agenda.

  3. Comment by Alex Aresti posted on

    I think the difficulty for providers is the time it takes to register and to get sn inspection. This is a very costly process for providers as the home has to have planning and a staff team before opening. Then you may not get a placement for a while and you still have to pay staffing overheads and all other running costs for that time.
    It seems that if your a large corporation with vast resources would be the only way you could open a children's homes without suffering significant financial loss.

    • Replies to Alex Aresti>

      Comment by Rosario Mary Geraghty posted on

      The care of our Children should be a priority and all to often companies especially big Companies think they can do as they please and not make sure the have all paperwork in place before admitting a child who then have to suffer with yet another move because they company failed to register or have put income above care of the most vulnerable children.

  4. Comment by sophie Barton posted on

    This report is the most accurate and sensible report I have read over the past year on unregulated provisions. I own and run Supported Accommodation for young people aged 16+ - we are not regulated. We are unregulated because there are no regulations for us not because we choose not to be. We provide excellent homes and support. Our young people love the fact that their home is not visited by random inspectors (nothing against inspectors as I was one for 7 years), that some of the very beaureucratic regulations do not apply to their home. They have a license / tenancy.
    I agree and am appalled at some of the other 16+ provisions I see. I am amazed that young people’s social workers allow for them to be placed there, but often it is not their decision but the managers who have a budget to manage. Local Authorities are between a rock and a hard place. Demand for provisions is huge. Yes unregistered provisions should not be allowed, but I hope that the bias in the sector towards unregulated provisions stop. Unregulated provisions can be great but Local Authorities do need to do more to improve quality in their area. As we have seen prior to The Care Act 2000, this did not succeed. Local Authorities were not able to ensure children’s homes were of a good standard. When NCSC took over inspections many LA children’s homes were rated inadequate and subsequently closed. I therefore believe Ofsted need to regulate and inspect Supported Accommodation for 16+ but with considerable different standards acknowledging the tenancy agreements young people have, their capacity and their independence.

    • Replies to sophie Barton>

      Comment by Sian posted on

      Could I ask how you went about setting up a supported living home and what polices and procedures you follow as I wish to set up a home in my local area.

      Thank you

      • Replies to Sian>

        Comment by reeta tejpal posted on

        Did you find any policies around the set up of 16+, i am looking at doing something similar in my area too

  5. Comment by EILEEN MUTANHU posted on

    Hi Sophie
    Could you help me with a list of the requirements for an unregulated supported living for young people 16-25? Many thanks

    • Replies to EILEEN MUTANHU>

      Comment by External Relations posted on

      Thanks for your message. Currently there aren’t any standards for supported accommodation. In the first instance we would recommend that you speak to your local authority.

  6. Comment by Sian posted on

    Does anyone know what the policies and procedures are that suppored living homes for young people over 16 years are supposed to be adhering to? I currently care for a young person 15 who has been told at 16 she can go to a supported living home but I wish to create one for her and others so that I know they are supported properly.

    • Replies to Sian>

      Comment by External Relations posted on

      Thanks for your message. Currently there aren’t any standards for supported accommodation. In the first instance, you could speak to the local authority responsible for the young person you care for to see if this is something they would want.

  7. Comment by Roseline posted on

    I would like to set up a supported living and would like some information on how to apply to the local authority to place young people with me.

    • Replies to Roseline>

      Comment by External Relations posted on

      Thanks for your message. We don't have any guidance on this, but we would suggest speaking to your local authority in the first instance, who should be able to advise on the requirements.

  8. Comment by Ross posted on

    Hi I would like to know procedures after registering fir tenders. After I have registered on a portal do I need to submit anywhere at all and policies or register anywhere with any authority or do I simply bid for tenders and submit any paperwork they may need?

    • Replies to Ross>

      Comment by External Relations posted on

      Thanks for your query, but as the regulator, Ofsted isn't involved in commissioning for local authority tenders.