Councils may have to provide thousands of young people with more extensive support following a Law Lords judgement today in the case of a homeless teenager.
The ruling could mean that many more homeless 16 and 17-year-olds receive social care support, and not just accommodation, from councils, and a number of 18- to 21-year-olds become entitled to leaving care support.
That was the claim from solicitors firm Fisher Meredith, which represented a young man, known as G, in the case against Southwark Council.
Evicted at age 17
In 2007, aged 17, he was evicted from home by his mother, and made effectively homeless.
However, following an assessment, Southwark children’s services deemed that he was not eligible to be looked-after under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, and referred him to the council’s housing department.
It said his primary needs were for housing and education and he did not have “any additional needs or vulnerabilities” that would suggest the need to be accommodated under the Children Act.
Met looked-after criteria
However, the Law Lords ruled that G fulfilled all the criteria required to be accommodated under councils’ section 20 duty to look after children whose parents or carers cannot accommodate them:-
- He was a child “in need” by virtue of being homeless.
- He needed accommodation, and not just “help with accommodation”, a category which triggers local authorities’ lesser duty under section 17 to safeguard children in need. The Court of Appeal had concluded that G only needed help with accommodation, hence it was appropriate to refer him to the housing department.
- His parents or carers were “prevented” from providing suitable accommodation for him, a category which includes cases where children have been evicted from home.
- He wanted to be accommodated under section 20.
Leaving care support triggered
This means he will be entitled to leaving care support, including a pathway plan and a personal adviser, until the age of 21, or 24, if he is then receiving education or training.
Following the judgement, Oliver Studdert, the solicitor who represented G, said “The effect of the judgement is going to really open the door for 16- and 17-year-olds to be provided with support and accommodation by local authority social services.
“There are a number of 16- and 17-year-olds who are being accommodated by social services but statistics show that considerably more are being accommodated by housing departments which means they won’t be entitled to any support beyond housing.”
Support for over-18s
He said a number of 18- to 21-year-olds who were dealt with under homelessness legislation but should have been treated as looked-after children should now become entitled to leaving care support.
A spokesperson for Southwark Council said: “As a borough we’re very committed to looking after young people in need and this judgement means we, and many other boroughs, will need to review and in some ways change the ways in which we provide these services.
“We are reviewing in detail the judgement and its implications. At this stage it’s too early to say what these implications will mean for service delivery and resources.”
Need for guidance
Studdert said that if local authorities did not act on the back of the judgement, Fisher Meredith may have to call on the Department for Children, Schools and Families to produce guidance on the issue.
A spokesperson for the DCSF, which intervened in the case, said: “The department notes the judgement in this case which supports our view that local authorities should presume, in the case of any homeless child, that the child should be accommodated under section 20(1) of the Children Act 1989 and be looked after by the local authority.”
Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000