Birmingham’s homeless policy challenged in the high court

Three mothers launched a high court challenge
to Birmingham Council’s policy for dealing with intentionally
homeless families last week, describing it as a breach of their
human rights.

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 the Netherlands. 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
1989 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 life.

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 led to an unsustainable demand on our

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.

Meanwhile, an appeal court 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 W v Lambeth,
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 intended to reinforce this power
under section 17 was inserted into the Adoption and Children Bill
earlier this week.

– See legal update at

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