Case of homeless teenager placed in B&B could prompt policy shake-up

A judicial review of a local authority’s decision to place a 17-year-old girl in temporary accommodation when she was made homeless in 2005 could “profoundly change” policy and practice in children’s services.

The warning came from the Howard League for Penal Reform which is challenging Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s decision to place the woman, now 18, in bed and breakfast under the Housing Act 1996. The case will be heard at the Court of Appeal this month.

The woman’s counsel will argue that, as someone under 18, she should have been entitled to help under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 as a looked-after child when she was asked to leave home in April 2005.

The decision to accommodate her under housing law instead meant that, having been detained at Cookham Wood young offender institution later that year, she was denied leaving care support when she was released in March.

This would have entitled her to support from a personal adviser, as well as a pathway plan, which deals with accommodation, training and education and health needs.

Instead, despite being pregnant, she was offered no help to find accommodation and visited a homelessness unit that placed her in several hostels.

She is now living in a mother and baby unit for women at risk of violence.

Assistant director of the Howard League Chris Callender said the charity’s legal team had dealt with more than 100 cases involving children in custody who have no history of support or suitable accommodation.

“This case will clarify exactly what duties local authorities have to these children and when they need to act,” he said.

“Our evidence suggests all too often they are placed in bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation, leading chaotic and destructive lives.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council will argue that the teenager in question was accommodated under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 as a person in priority need and was then not offered support as a care leaver because she had never been a looked-after child.

Permission for judicial review had been denied by the High Court in March.

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