Lords rule on housing duty of social services

The House of Lords held by a majority of three to two that a
local social services authority was not under a duty to provide
residential accommodation for families so that children could be
housed with their parents in circumstances which met the
children’s needs.

The House of Lords ruled on 23 October 2003 in R(G) v Barnet
London Borough Council, R v (W) and R(A) v Lambeth Council.

The claimants had argued that local authorities owed a duty
under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to each individual child
in need to provide that child with residential accommodation to
enable the child to live with the parent, if an assessment of the
child’s needs showed that was required to meet the needs.

The lords held that the section provided for a general duty and
the provision of accommodation was only one of the services which
might be provided in the performance of that duty. But that was not
the primary purpose of the legislation. It was the responsibility
of the housing authority. To read the section differently could
have the effect of turning the social services department into
another kind of housing department.

The conclusion is that, although the authority may provide
residential accommodation for children in need to live with their
parents, it has no duty to do so, and neither the child nor the
parents can claim this as a right.

Richard White

White and Sherwin Solicitors

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