Lewisham Council is likely spending millions per year placing children in its care in unregulated accommodation, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.  

Unlike children’s homes, Ofsted does not inspect these settings. Young people – usually either 16 or 17 - are often left with little support and can be at risk of exploitation.    

England’s former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, last year called on the Government to change the law to stop councils placing under 18s in care in this type of accommodation.  

Her report, ‘Unregulated: Children in care living in semi-independent accommodation’, found that children were living in bedsits, hostels, caravans, tents, and in one case a barge.   

The Commissioner heard some positive stories but also “some shocking” ones, including “from children with mental health, self-harm or drug issues who became victims of exploitation and abuse while living in unregulated accommodation”.   

The report also showed that some providers “are making extraordinary profits from unregulated accommodation” and highlights “how many desperate councils are paying thousands of pounds a week to private providers who are then providing poor quality accommodation and little in the way of support to often very vulnerable children”.    

Lewisham currently has 480 looked after children. Of these, 34 are in unregulated placements - 32 are aged 16 or 17, two are under 16.   

The figures on the number of children in unregulated placements emerged in response to a public question submitted ahead of Lewisham’s full council meeting on November 25.   

In response to an FOI request from the local democracy service, the council said it “does not split accommodation and support cost” so would not provide the exact cost of the unregulated accommodation it places young people in.  

But its response showed that the lowest priced accommodation for a child in its care is £510 per week, which for 34 young people equates to £901,680 per year.  

The highest priced accommodation costs £4,500 per week, equating to £7,956,000 per year for 34 children, while the average cost per week is £1,300, equating to £2,298,400 per year for 34 young people.  

The FOI request also revealed that the longest time a child in Lewisham’s care spent in unregulated accommodation is two years. 

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said “the safety and wellbeing of children and young people are our highest priority”.  

“Every effort is made to find the right placements for young people who need them and placements in semi-independent provisions are commissioned by Lewisham as part of our housing pathways.  

“The placements are for young people who are approaching adulthood, and they are supported by our staff to become independent.  

“In addition to this, young people are supported by an allocated social worker to ensure that the right safeguards are in place,” the spokesperson said.  

The council did not comment on whether it was doing anything to reduce the number of children placed in unregulated accommodation.