Councils housing homeless teenagers in B&Bs
Over 100 local authorities in England placed homeless children in bed and breakfast hotels last year, BBC Newsnight has discovered.
Statutory government guidance makes clear that 16 and 17 year olds should not be housed overnight in a B&B "even on an emergency accommodation basis".
But 119 of 208 councils that replied to Newsnight Freedom of Information requests said they had done so in 2012.
Councils say there is often little alternative, especially in a crisis.
Government guidance issued in 2010 said all lone 16 and 17 year olds who approach their council and are at risk of becoming homeless should be referred to a social worker for an assessment.
If they have nowhere settled to live they should normally be offered accommodation and a full package of care from social services.
But homeless charities and lawyers representing children say some councils appear to be actively discouraging under 18s from getting this kind of support, which can be expensive.
David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association children's board, said councils work hard to make sure teenagers don't "fall through the cracks" but young people have a range of different needs and some difficult choices have to be made at a time when budgets are being squeezed.
A government spokesperson said of Newsnight's findings: "The law is clear. Any lone, homeless child in need aged 16 and 17 should be taken into care. It is simply unacceptable for homeless children not to be referred to children's services for an assessment.
"The statutory guidance is clear that bed and breakfast is not suitable accommodation. Councils should review their local processes and practices to ensure they are meeting this statutory requirement."
Newsnight asked all 354 local authorities in England a series of questions about teenage homelessness. Responses from the 208 councils who replied showed that in 2012 housing officers placed 871 young people aged 16 and 17 in B&Bs, with social services departments accommodating another 525 young people.
But councils say that often there is little choice but to use bed and breakfast provision, especially late at night or at the weekend:
"No young person should be left on their own, vulnerable and without support," said Mr Simmonds. "But if councils know that a particular place is a good place, a safe place with a particular package of support, that is secure and gives the young person a roof over their head, then that might be a sensible solution."
Newsnight has spoken to young people who aged 16 and 17 spent long periods in bed and breakfast accommodation after they became homeless, typically after a breakdown in family relations.
One 17-year-old girl who spent months in different bed and breakfast hotels last year said: "I was really scared. I would lock my door and put a chair up against it because some nights drunk people would come in at all hours."
"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It's a horrible thing to have to go through at a young age," she said.
Seyi Obakin, the chief executive of the homeless charity Centrepoint, said of Newsnight's report: "There are no circumstances under which we would think it is remotely appropriate to put 16 and 17 year olds in bed and breakfast accommodation.
"In that environment they are exposed to a whole range of things from sexual exploitation to early exposure to drugs and alcohol and recruitment to criminal activity at a time when they are children."