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How to get a social worker to help me

If you are homeless and you apply to the council housing department for help, it may refer you to a social worker for assistance. This section explains when and how the council might try to get social work involved, and what sort of help social work may be able to offer.

When should the council get social work involved?

The council may refer you to the social work department if:

  • the housing department doesn't have a duty to help you (for example, because you failed one of the homelessness tests) but believes social work does
  • the housing department does have a duty to help you but believes social work can offer you better help, for example if you may have difficulties living on your own due to your age, any disabilities, etc.

Councils should have procedures in place to ensure that you aren't passed endlessly between the housing and social work departments, with neither taking responsibility for your case. If you think this is happening to you, talk to an adviser immediately.

What can social work do to help?

The type of help that social work may offer can vary widely but can be limited. It will depend on your particular circumstances and needs.

Who can social work help?

The social work department can help you if you are homeless and are:

  • under 18 years old
  • responsible for dependent children
  • under 21 years old and have been in care
  • elderly
  • ill, or have physical or mental health needs that are not being met.

Children and young people

Social work has legal duties towards you if you are homeless and are:

  • under 18 years old
  • responsible for dependent children
  • under 21 years old and have been in care.

The type of help social work provides can vary because it is not defined in law. They might:

  • provide accommodation for you themselves
  • help you to raise money for a deposit on a private rented place
  • provide financial support.

The law says that social work has to safeguard the welfare of 'children in need'. Any person under the age of 18 is classed as a child. You are considered to be 'in need' if your health and development is at risk. If you are homeless, social work should consider this to have a harmful effect on your health and development.

Families with children

If a family asks social work for help, social work only has a duty towards the children and young people in the family (unless the adults have special needs). However, they should aim to help the young person remain with their family, which means they ought to provide accommodation for the whole family. Whether they do this or not depends upon them balancing your needs with the demands upon them to help others.

People who are ill, disabled or elderly

If you are ill, disabled or elderly and homeless and the housing department can't help you, social work may have to provide you with accommodation, or at least help you find somewhere to live. This will depend on an assessment of your needs and whether there are any other ways you could get accommodation.

The type of help social work provides can vary because it is not defined in law. For example, they might:

  • provide accommodation for you themselves
  • help you to raise money for a deposit on a private rented place.

Once a need has been identified, social work has to provide services that they consider reasonable to meet that need, taking into account the resources available to them.

People with physical or mental health problems

Social work may have to help you if:

  • you have physical or mental health needs, and
  • you're homeless, and
  • the housing department can't help you.

This depends on the extent of your needs and your situation as a whole. Get advice if the council has decided it can't help you and you have health needs that are being affected by homelessness.

What if social work won't help either?

If the council has passed you on to social work, but social work cannot help you in the way that you need, get advice. You may be able to challenge social work by making a complaint, or, in extreme cases, taking legal action. The law about the help that social work has to provide can be very complicated, so getting advice is essential if you are in this situation.

Where can I get help and advice?

If you have applied to the council housing department for help and it has told you that it can't help but social work might help, get advice immediately. An adviser can inform you of your rights to help from social work and what sort of help they might offer. An adviser should also be able to look into the reasons why the council has come to that decision, and may be able to put arguments to the council on your behalf.

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The important points

  • You may get referred to social work, if the housing department think that they are better placed to help you.
  • Social work has legal duties towards to if you are under 18, responsible for children, or if you're under 21 and have been in care.
  • Social work might also help if you are elderly with support needs or if you have mental health needs.

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

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