Lords consider housing duty for councils under children act

The House of Lords has finally heard three linked cases which
may have important repercussions for the way part III of the
Children Act 1989 is interpreted by local authorities ( A and W v
London Borough of Lambeth, G v London Borough of Barnet) .

What follows is a summary of the arguments presented to the
court on May 12, 13 and 14.

All three cases concerned children where councils were refusing
to provide accommodation for the children with their families
pursuant to section 17 of the act. Surprisingly, as the Children
Act 1989 has been in force for 14 years, this is the first time
that the courts have considered the extent and the nature of the
duty owed to children in need.

The issues considered by the House of Lords include the

1. Is the duty under section 17 (to provide a range and level of
services appropriate to the needs of children in need), an absolute
duty which can be enforced by any child in need who has unmet
2. Once there has been a needs assessment of a child in need, which
includes a decision that such a child does have needs for services
which can be provided under section 17, can a child enforce the
provision of those services?
3. If a council has a choice as to whether to provide accommodation
to a child alone or with its parents (for example, where a family
is homeless), then is it a breach of the right to respect for home
and family life (article 8 of the European Convention of Human
Rights) to decide to house the child alone (especially where it is
cheaper to provide accommodation for the family as a whole).

The councils involved in the case argue that they have nothing
more than a duty to strive to provide sufficient services to
children in need as a group, and there is nothing an individual
child can do if, in doing its best to meet needs as a whole, the
council is unable to meet his or her needs. Limited resources,
human and financial, are prayed in aid of this argument.

The response to this is that the argument makes the duty to
provide services under section 17 completely toothless, and that
the resources of councils should not determine the services that
children should receive. 

The judgment of the court is not expected for a number of

Stephen Cragg

Doughty Street Chambers

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