School leaving age varies across the UK.
In England pupils can leave school on the last Friday in June if they’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays.
Young people must then do one of the following until they're 18:
- stay in full-time education, for example at a college
- start an apprenticeship or traineeship
- spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training
In Northern Ireland if a pupil turns 16 during the school year (between 1 September and 1 July) they can leave school after 30 June of that year.
If a pupil turns 16 between 2 July and 31 August they can’t leave school until 30 June the following year (Gov.uk, 2021a).
In Scotland, if a pupil turns 16 between 1 March and 30 September they can leave school after 31 May of that year.
If a pupil turns 16 between 1 October and the end of February they can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year (Gov.uk, 2021a).
In Wales pupils can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as they'll be 16 by the end of that school year’s summer holidays (Gov.uk, 2021a).
As young people get older they may start to think about moving out and living independently, for various reasons. They may:
- want to live with friends or partners
- have their own child to care for
- want to avoid family conflict
- no longer feel safe at home.
In some cases parents may ask their children to leave the home, for example for financial reasons or a breakdown in relationships.
- Parents of under-16-year-olds are legally responsible for making sure their child has somewhere safe to stay.
- Once a young person reaches 16 they can leave home, or their parents can ask them to move out. However parents are still legally responsible for their child until they reach 18.
Support for children who need to leave home
If a child under 16 is made to leave or doesn't feel safe in their home, local children's services can help.
Children's services should provide a family with support so that the child doesn’t have to leave home. But if it’s in the child's best interests to live somewhere else, they can arrange for them to live with another family member or friend, or provide emergency accommodation, such as a foster placement.
A child or young person aged 16 or 17 should contact their local children's services team if they are considering leaving home. Children's services should discuss the matter with them to see what support they need. Children's services may be able to work with the family to enable the young person to stay at home, or arrange alternative accommodation such as with another family member or friend. But they should also respect the child's wishes about where they want to live.
A child or young person may be considered homeless when their home is not suitable or they do not have the right to stay where they live. For example they may be living somewhere that is dangerous or overcrowded.
A homeless child is entitled to accommodation from their local authority children's services, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.
In England, certain public authorities (including child protection services) have a duty to refer service users who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to a housing authority. They must get consent from the individual service user to do this, and allow the service user to choose which housing authority the referral is made to (DfE, 2018).
Statutory guidance for supporting homeless 16- and 17-year-olds is set out in Prevention of homelessness and provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation (PDF) (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 2018).
In Northern Ireland, Health and Social Care Trusts have a duty under The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to provide services for persons under 18 who are children in need (Housing Executive, 2022).
In Scotland, local authorities have a duty under The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to provide accommodation for any child who is homeless because:
- no-one has parental responsibility for them
- they are lost or abandoned
- the person who is caring from them is unable to provide them with suitable accommodation or care.
The local authority also has the power to provide accommodation for any child in their area to safeguard or promote their welfare.
16- to 17-year-olds can also apply to their local authority as a homeless adult. All non-intentionally homeless people are entitled to permanent accommodation. Scotland’s Homelessness: code of guidance (Scottish Government, 2019) states that a young person who has left their parents’ home due to a “clash of lifestyles” should not automatically be considered intentionally homeless. Equal weight should be given to both the young person's views and the views of the parents.
In Wales statutory guidance for homeless 16- and 17-year-olds is Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless (PDF) (Welsh Government, 2010).
If a child or young person wants to live independently it's important to consider their ability to support themselves financially. They may not be in a position to put down a deposit on a property, pay rent and bills, or buy food.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, young people are not legally entitled to have a tenancy agreement to rent a property in their own name until they are 18. In Scotland this is possible from 16.
Universal Credit is available for those aged 18 or over who are on a low income or are unemployed. In some circumstances 16- and 17-year-olds are also able to claim Universal Credit (Gov.uk, 2022).
The local Citizen's Advice Bureau can help work out what support a child is entitled to. More information is also available from Jobcentre Plus in England, Scotland and Wales or the Jobs & Benefits office in Northern Ireland.
If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about homelessness on the Childline website. You can also download Childline posters.
In all nations of the UK, children leaving care at 18 are entitled to support from their local authority until they are at least 21.
> Find more about children and young people leaving care
Young people who have their own children are entitled to support. The local children's services or the Citizen's Advice Bureau can advise about what help is available.