Homeless teenager, accommodated under Housing Act 1996 or Children Act 1989?

Author:Harris, Alexandra Conroy
Position:England and Wales
 
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R (on the application of G)(FC) v London Borough of Southwark House of Lords (Lords Hope of Craighead, Walker of Gestingthorpe, Mance, Neuberger of Abbotsbury and Baroness Hale of Richmond) 20 May 2009 [2009] UKHL 26

G was a 17-year-old from Somalia who lived with his mother until June 2007 when their relationship deteriorated. His mother told him to leave the home, and after a failed attempt at mediation by the housing department, G became a 'sofa surfer'. In September 2007 he consulted solicitors, who sent him to the children's services department to request immediate accommodation under s20 of the

Children Act 1989 and an assessment of him as a child in need. A full initial assessment was carried out, identifying his primary needs as housing and education. His immigration status did not exclude him from local authority housing and the social worker did not identify any particular needs or vulnerabilities which would require long-term accommodation by social services. The recommendation was for a referral to the Homeless Persons Unit and ongoing social work support to help G to obtain education and benefits and to explore reunification with his family. G claimed that the assessment showed that he met the criteria for accommodation under s20 of the Children Act 1989, but the local authority continued to provide bed and breakfast accommodation using their powers under the Housing Act 1996.

Held

A child 'requires accommodation' under s20 of the Children Act if he is (i) a child in need, (ii) within the area of the local authority and (iii) if his parent is prevented from providing him with suitable accommodation and care.

It was common ground that G was a child and that he was in need because he was homeless. He did not have a basic level of stability that could support his education and maintaining a reasonable standard of self-care would pose a challenge. There was no dispute that G was in the local authority's area or that he needed somewhere to live because his mother was unable to care for him. G wanted to be accommodated by the local authority and he had taken legal advice as to which service would be in his best interests; due regard should be given to those wishes. He 'ticked all the boxes' of s20 and therefore the local authority had a duty to accommodate him as a looked after child. The Guidance, LAC(2003)13, suggested that there was some discretion involved and that a child could be provided with 'help with accommodation' without...

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