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Social workers urged to help halt forced marriage visas

Border staff are to ask social workers to carry out assessments of learning disabled people's capacity to consent to marry in order to stop visas being granted to foreign spouses in such cases.

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Border staff are to ask social workers to carry out assessments of learning disabled people’s capacity to consent to marry in order to stop visas being granted to foreign spouses in forced marriage cases.

The UK Border Agency is to refer cases where it appears a learning disabled person has sponsored a visa for a foreign spouse to the relevant director of adult social services to organise a capacity assessment.

If this finds that the person lacks the capacity to consent to marry, the director would be expected to pass this on to the UKBA so that they can halt the visa. Otherwise the visa will proceed. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, if someone lacks the capacity to consent to marry, no one can decide on their behalf that they should, so any such marriage is forced by definition.

The arrangement has been brokered by the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, and details are included in an advice note to social workers and other relevant staff from FMU joint head Chaz Akoshile, posted on the Adass website.

The FMU is receiving growing numbers of referrals involving adults with learning disabilities who have married and are sponsoring visas for foreign national spouses to join them in the UK.

Though the FMU works with the UKBA to support people forced to sponsor marriage visas, Akoshile said that the unit was not able to assess capacity to consent to a marriage on the part of a person with learning disabilities.

“Therefore, we propose a mechanism where the UKBA can refer cases directly to adult social services, and adult social services are able to reciprocate by sharing information with UKBA,” he said. ”The FMU will continue to act as a point of contact between the UKBA and adult social services. Contact will be made with the director of adult social services who will then forward it to the most appropriate person to deal with the issues.”

Akoshile said that the arrangement could also bring people not receiving support to the attention of adult social services. He also called on social workers to seek the FMU’s advice on handling cases of forced marriage of people with learning disabilities, on the basis that such cases rarely came across practitioners’ desks.

In December 2010, the FMU published multi-agency guidelines on handling these cases. Though he said these had been “extremely useful”, Akoshile added: “It has become clear that their existence is not well-known across all adult social care and safeguarding staff.”

Picture credit: Isopix/Rex Features

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