The Southwark Judgement, made by the Law Lords in May 2009, is a piece of case law that obliges children’s services to provide accommodation and support to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.
In the past, many children’s services deemed that young people in this age group did not necessarily “need care” from local authorities but “help and support” in accessing housing benefits.
G was a 17-year-old who had fallen out with his mother and was made homeless. He was sleeping on the floors of friends. After seeking legal advice, he demanded that Southwark Council’s children’s services department provide him with accommodation and support under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
Although the council accepted that G was a “child-in-need” and was homeless, it did not accept that he “required” accommodation. Instead, it held that, because he was a resourceful teenager, he simply needed “help with accommodation”, such as assistance to find a flat of his own and to claim housing benefit.
G appealed against this decision but the Court of Appeal agreed that the council’s decision was not unreasonable.
G then took the case to the the Law Lords, the highest court in the UK known now as the Supreme Court, and won.
The Lords decided that children’s services could not deny entitlement to children if they fulfilled the criteria set out in the law. Therefore, councils have a duty to provide accommodation to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds whose family support networks had disintegrated.
Since the judgement, councils have had a legal obligation provide accommodation and – often – leaving care services to this group of young people. Councils have argued this will present them with a significant costs, although it is still too early to assess the impact on them.