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In R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council the House of Lords held that a local authority housing department which purported to provide accommodation to a 17 year old homeless young woman under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996, and failed to refer her to the children's services department to assess whether a duty to accommodate her was owed under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, had acted lawfully. This meant that the young woman did not become a 'looked after' child pursuant to section 22 of the Children Act 1989 and thus was not entitled to the duties which the local authority owes to children leaving their care. This commentary explores the reasoning of the House of Lords decision and considers whether an alternative outcome was possible, and examines in particular the relationship between housing departments/authorities and children's services departments/authorities. As M spent time in a custodial institution following a criminal conviction, the commentary also considers the duties of local authorities to children who have been accommodated by the state following their involvement with the criminal justice system.
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