Section 20 has been a hot topic among social workers and lawyers for several years now. There have been a number of high profile cases where awards of damages have been made against local authorities in relation to the misuse of section 20. As of March 2017, statistics show that 72,670 children were being looked after by local authorities in England, of which 16,470 (almost 23%) were accommodated without any court order. How many of those placements were at risk of judicial criticism or might have given rise to an award of damages?
In July 2018, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the case of Williams v London Borough of Hackney. This is now the guideline case on the use of section 20 accommodation. All social work and legal practitioners working in family courts need to have a clear understanding of the key principles that the Supreme Court has set down in this case.
At Community Care Live on 26 September 2018, I will set out the key principles of Williams v London Borough of Hackney to provide you with an essential list of dos and don’ts to apply in all your cases. In particular, I will look at the following issues:
- In what circumstances is it appropriate to use section 20 accommodation?
- In what circumstances should a court order be sought instead?
- What are the key legal and practical differences between placement under section 20 and placement under a care order?
- How long can a child remain in section 20 accommodation?
- What factors do you need to consider to satisfy yourself that section 20 accommodation is appropriate?
- What information do you need to provide to a parent before seeking to accommodate a child?
- Do you need to obtain consent from a parent before you can accommodate a child?
- Does that consent need to be written?
- Do you need to obtain consent from every person who has parental responsibility for the child?
- When and how can a parent remove a child from section 20 accommodation?
- Are there circumstances in which a local authority can prevent a parent from removing a child from section 20 accommodation without obtaining a court order?
- What are the consequences of misusing section 20?
- How can potential pitfalls be avoided?
Oliver Millington is a barrister at 9, Gough Square Chambers. He will be presenting a legal learning session on the appropriate use of section 20 on 26 September 2018 at 9.45am. To reserve your place at this session, register for Community Care Live and select this legal learning session. There is a fee of £29 plus VAT for each legal learning session you attend. The vast majority of sessions at Community Care Live remain free to attend.