Three mothers have launched a high court challenge to Birmingham
council’s policy for dealing with intentionally homeless
families, describing it as a breach of their human rights,
writes Lauren Revans.
The women, all Dutch citizens originally from Somalia, are
entitled to live in the UK under EU law. They fled the Netherlands
to escape domestic abuse.
Having failed the habitual residency test and been refused
benefits, the mothers – who have 13 young children between
them – applied to the council for support under section 17 of
the Children Act 1989.
Birmingham social services then carried out their own assessment
and ruled that the families’ needs could be best met by
returning to Holland.
The council offered to pay the families’ fares, but said
if they failed to take up the offer the children could be taken
into care under section 20 of the Children Act.
But counsel for the women Christopher Vajda QC told the high
court that the policy violated article 8 of the European Convention
on Human Rights, on the right to respect for private and family
A high court decision on the case is expected within the next
three weeks. Birmingham area social services manager Ken Wynne told
Community Care: “If the policy is not upheld, obviously we
would have to reconsider it. But we would be very concerned if it
lead to an unsustainable demand on our resources.”
In an earlier case, between ‘G’ and Barnet council,
the high court concluded that Barnet’s duty to promote the
upbringing of children with their families under section 17 of the
1989 act had been met by providing financial assistance for the
return of the mother and child to the Netherlands.
Criticising the proposal to separate children from their
parents, homelessness charity Shelter solicitor John Gallagher
said: “Any authority’s policy of taking children into care
must be one of last resort and only one of child protection. It
should never be one where the issue is one of subsistence and
Meanwhile, a court of appeal judgement in May last year, which
cast doubt on the power of councils to provide accommodation to
children in need under section 17 of the 1989 act, was overturned
earlier this month. The case of ‘A’ v Lambeth was
overturned by the case of ‘W’ v Lambeth, which
concluded that, under section 17, social services had the power to
provide assistance towards the housing needs of intentionally
homeless families – but that it was down to the council to
decide whether or not to exercise that power. An amendment to the
Adoption and Children Bill intended to reinforce this power under
section 17 was inserted into the bill earlier this week.
Click here to read a legal analysis of Lambeth case