Lords rule teenager should have been provided care and not just treated as homeless

20 SEP 2009

The House of Lords have ruled that a 17-year-old who was thrown out of his home by his mother should have been provided care by his local authority and not just provided accommodation by the homeless persons unit.

Having been thrown out of his home by his mother and after sleeping on friends' sofas and in their cars, the teenager presented himself to the authority social services department requesting accommodation.

The authority provided the child with bed and breakfast accommodation, but concluded that, given the child's resourcefulness and age, accommodation provided by the homeless persons unit, with referrals to other support agencies, would be sufficient for his needs.

His solicitors argued that the child should in fact be accommodated pursuant to s 20(1)(c) of the Children Act 1989, thereby becoming entitled to the wider range of services available to a 'looked after child' and eventually qualifying as a 'former relevant child'.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the child's application for judicial review, stating that the local authority had been entitled in this case to decide that, even though the child was unable to live with the mother and had no other home, as a resourceful teenager capable of sourcing accommodation provided that he was given assistance to do so, he needed only 'help with accommodation'.

In allowing the child's appeal, Baroness Hale sitting with Lord Hope, Lord Walker, Lord Mance and Lord Neuberger, cited Ward LJ's checklist of the judgments required in respect of s 20(1), as set out in R (A) v Croydon London Borough Council [2008] EWCA Civ 1445.

If, as in this case, a child met those criteria, the child was entitled to support under s 20 once every item on the list had been assessed in the child's favour, the duty had arisen, and the authority were not entitled to 'side-step' that duty by giving the accommodation a different label. A local children's authority could not avoid their responsibilities by 'passing the buck' to another authority, such as a housing authority, but could ask another authority to use its powers to help them discharge theirs.

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