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R (on the application of MM) v London Borough of Lewisham [2009] EWHC 416 (Admin)

Application for judicial review of decisions that the claimant was not a child in need under s17 of the Children Act 1989. Application successful.

The claimant had sought help from a refuge after leaving her partner because of domestic violence. She was 17 at the time. In July 2007, the refuge manager discussed the case with social services but the team manager decided that as the claimant was in receipt of benefits and housing she did not meet the criteria for children’s services. In response to this application the local authority claimed that even if they had acted unlawfully in failing to carry out an initial assessment if they had done so then they would have reached the same conclusion, which they did in December 2007. The claimant’s primary submission was that no reasonable local authority would have reached the conclusion they did in July.

In this judgment, Sir George Newman, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, reviews the discussions between the refuge and the social services department relating to the decision in July 2007 and the subsequent documents used in the December assessment. He concludes that i) if social services had made further inquiries it would have been plain that the refuge did not meet the claimant’s housing needs; ii) they would also have been informed of the impact on the claimant’s mental and physical health. Given that they would have been bound to carry out an initial assessment and conclude the claimant was a child in need requiring accommodation. He also found that the subsequent assessment in December 2007 was flawed

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Neutral Citation Number: [2009] EWHC 416 (Admin)
Case No: CO/3184/2008

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 6th March 2009

Before :

SIR GEORGE NEWMAN
(SITTING AS A DEPUTY JUDGE OF THE QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION)

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Between :

THE QUEEN on the application of MM (Claimant)

 - and - 

LONDON BOROUGH OF LEWISHAM (Defendant)

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James Presland (instructed by Steel & Shamash) for the Claimant
Hilton Harrop-Griffiths (instructed by the Legal Department of the Defendant)

Hearing date: 4th December 2008

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Judgment
 
Sir George Newman :
1. This case raises important questions in connection with the duty of local children’s services authorities when making an assessment as to whether a child brought to their attention is a “child in need” under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. 

2. The London Borough of Lewisham (the defendant) considered whether the claimant was a “child in need” in July and December 2007.  On each occasion it concluded that she did not meet the statutory criteria.  Both decisions are under challenge but the defendant has argued that even if it acted unlawfully in July, by failing to carry out an initial assessment, had it done so, in all likelihood it would have concluded, as it did in December, after carrying out an initial assessment, that the claimant was not a child in need.  The claimant’s primary submission is that in July 2007 no reasonable local Social Services authority could have concluded other than that the claimant was a child in need at that date.  If the claimant’s primary submission is correct then the December decision, in my judgment, cannot affect the outcome and she is entitled to relief.

The Essential Facts
3. The claimant was born on 9th January 1990.  On 5th July 2007 she was referred to the Social Services Department of the defendant.  The referral was made by telephone from a women’s refuge, by a support worker at the refuge, called Nicole Evans.  Nicole Evans has not provided a witness statement but the Court has had the advantage of seeing copies of letters written by her to the Lewisham Housing Services dated 9th August 2007 and 26th October 2007 and a letter dated 2nd September 2008, from the services manager at the refuge, recording the contents of the contemporary notes made at the refuge, presumably by Nicole Evans and others. 

4. Nicole Evans spoke to Marinda Beaton, a social worker at Lewisham Social Care and Health, Referral and Assessment Team.  According to the witness statement of Marinda Beaton, Nicole Evans stated that:

(i)  she wanted “to refer a young woman” to Social Services “for support”; 
(ii) the young woman, whom she named, had come to the refuge on 7th March 2007 “fleeing domestic violence from her ex-partner”.  She stated that the claimant was fleeing from the Bexley area; 
(iii) the refuge was looking to move the claimant into a hostel and this was likely to happen over the next few days.  She requested Social Services’ support for the claimant: “as she felt that she was vulnerable and lacking life skills.”

5. The written report, drawn up and headed “Contact Record”, in large part confirms the content of the telephone conversation between Nicole Evans and Marinda Beaton. It recorded:

“[MM] came to the refuge on 7th March 2007, fleeing domestic violence from her ex partner.  She is originally from Bexley Council.  The refuge is now looking into moving [MM] into supportive accommodation (hostel).  This is likely to happen over the next few days.  [MM] is currently in receipt of income support.  The referrer is requesting Social Services to support [MM] as they feel she is vulnerable and lacking life skills.”

But, significantly, the form provides, under a heading “Action Taken”, for various boxes to be ticked.  The box “Progress to referral” was ticked.  Thereafter, against reasons for this action, the form records:

“Duty manager to decide
Duty worker to inform referrer that YP should seek help via family if appropriate or via victim support”.

6. Ms Marinda Beaton’s witness statement puts the conclusions she reached in somewhat different terms.  She makes no mention of a decision to advise Nicole Evans that the claimant should seek help via her family, if appropriate or via victim support.  Her statement expresses her position as follows:

“It was my professional opinion that [MM] did not meet the criteria for a service from Social Services, but could benefit from support agencies, such as the “Big Sister Support Scheme”.  They provide weekly drop-in sessions for young women aged 12 to 20 and their activities include support in relation to general life skills, dance, creative writing, education advice and sexual health information.”

Miranda Beaton goes on to state that:

“My manager, Pam Harmer, was in agreement with my recommendation and suggested that Social Services took no further action at that stage.”

7. The written record of the decision is set out on a form headed “Referral and Information Record” and refers to 6th July 2007 as the date of the decision.  Under the heading “Referral” against the entry “Category of need for referral” the form records in capitals: “CH CASE NOT CIN.”  The reasons for referral follow the note of the conversation with Nicole Evans as recorded in the contact record.  The form also provides for information to be given in respect of parents’ details, key agencies, any further details such as the disability of the child, particulars if they were from the Child Protection Register, any other information about other children in the family who might have been on a Child Protection or CLA register of another local authority.  No such information was given.  Under the heading “Action Taken” the box ticked was “No further action” and the reasons given were:

“I do not think that this referral meets the criteria for a service from Social Services.  The refuge can refer the young person to the “Big Sister Support Scheme” for support with life skills.  Recommend no further action from Social Services.”

This was the decision of Pam Harmer, the manager, taken, as I have stated, on the recommendation of the social worker, Marinda Beaton.

8. Pam Harmer, the team manager, has made two statements in connection with these events.  As to the decision on 6th July, she records that she was advised that Nicole Evans had said something to the effect that:

“[MM] was moving into alternative accommodation and that it was hoped that this would happen over the following few days.”

She also states that

“Mrs Beaton advised me that the details of the referral were vague and that Ms Evans was unable to give any more information than that documented above.  A written referral was not received.”

The statement from Pam Harmer goes on to record the reason for her decision as follows:

“As [MM] was in receipt of benefits and housing was being provided I made a decision that this did not meet the criteria for a service from Children’s Social Care but a service could be provided by the voluntary sector via the “Big Sister Support Scheme””.

This decision was based on Lewisham’s eligibility criteria which she set out in her statement. 

9. If Marinda Beaton considered the “details of the referral were vague” at the time, she makes no reference to that in her witness statement.  Nor does the written record contain any such reservation about the details she had been given.  If she felt that the details being provided were vague at the time of the telephone conversation I can see no reason why she did not request further details nor why Pam Harmer did not instruct her to obtain more details.  Had inquiry been made, having seen the contents of the letter dated 9th August 2007 from Nicole Evans, I have no doubt she would have been provided with those details and that any other inquiry would have been answered.

Communication of the Results of the Assessment under the Children Act 1989
10. Marinda Beaton states:

“I made several attempts to contact the referrer to inform her of the outcome of Social Services’ decision, and to advise her of the referral process of the “Big Sister Support Scheme”, but without success.  I left a voicemail message for Ms Evans, informing her that Social Services will be taking no further action and advising that they could approach the “Big Sister Support Scheme” for support and left details of the project and the referral process.”

11. Ms Harmer’s statement confirms the evidence of Marinda Beaton, presumably only on the basis of what she was told by Marinda Beaton.  However, the written records of the refuge indicate a different course of events.  In the letter dated 2nd September 2008 the following is disclosed.  Against the date 5th July 2007:

“NE [Nicole Evans] spoke to Marinda Beaton, Lewisham Social Services.  Marinda to get back to NE re if MM meets criteria”.

Then, against 12th July 2007,

“NE spoke to Marinda Beaton, Lewisham Social Services, gave Bev’s telephone number for Marinda to explain why MM does not meet their criteria.” 

 The “Bev” referred to is Beverley Robinson, the deputy manager of the refuge.  I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the record in connection with the 12th July 2007 conversation between Nicole Evans and Marinda Beaton.  The only evidence from the defendant is in a second statement from Pamela Harmer where she comments:

“I do not have any recollection of Beverley Robinson being mentioned to myself or Ms Beaton during conversations with Nicole Evans.  Several attempts were made to contact Ms Evans to provide details of the “Big Sister Support Scheme” but without success.  A voicemail message was left for Ms Evans, informing her that Social Services will be taking no further action and advising they could approach the “Big Sister Support Scheme” for support.”

12. The evidence from the defendant fails to meet the substance of the evidence from the refuge to the effect Nicole Evans had received notice of the refusal to assess the claimant as a child in need and had spoken to Marinda Beaton and requested that Lewisham should explain why the criteria had not been met.  Nor does it meet the evidence of the claimant (paragraph 7 second witness statement) that she was ever told by Social Services or Nicole Evans that she should contact the “Big Sister Support Scheme”.  I am satisfied that at no time was the claimant or Nicole Evans, or the deputy manager, Beverley Robinson, informed of the reasons why the referral had not met the criteria. 

13. The written material and the witness statements in this case are sufficiently clear to enable me to reach the following firm conclusions:

(1) Marinda Beaton dealt with the referral from the refuge summarily and without making proper inquiry.  It is plain that there were details which she could have requested but did not.  According to Pam Harmer, she considered the referral to have been “vague”.  She could have requested more details either in the course of the telephone conversation, or after reflection, by making further contact with the refuge.  If she thought the information she had received was “vague” she manifestly should have made further inquiry.

(2) I am not satisfied that “several attempts” were made to contact Nicole Evans yet apparently only one voicemail message was left.  Nor having regard to the degree of diligence and concern demonstrated by Nicole Evans, who without delay formulated a detailed letter of claim for housing support for the claimant, am I satisfied that the “Big Sister Support Scheme” was mentioned.  There is no record of it in the records of the refuge and the claimant was never informed of the scheme.  It seems likely that Marinda Beaton simply left a message informing Nicole Evans that the referral had not met the criteria and when asked by Nicole Evans to give the reasons why they had not been met to Beverley Robinson, she failed to do so.

(3) Rather than considering the issues to which the facts gave rise, which bore upon the question as to whether the claimant was a child in need, Marinda Beaton concentrated on the facts which she thought could be taken as pointing towards Social Services not accepting responsibility.  By that I mean she read the report that the refuge were within days hoping to move the claimant to a hostel as meeting the housing requirements of the claimant.  In so far as she considered whether there was a need for other support, it appears she had in mind that it could be met via the family or victim support or the “Big Sister Support Scheme”.  Rather than concentrating or inquiring into the reasons for the claimant’s vulnerability, she paid regard to the “lack of life skills” and concluded that the “Big Sister Support Scheme” would be adequate to meet the position.  But having done so, she failed to convey that conclusion to the claimant or Nicole Evans.

(4) The summary nature of her consideration, along with her manager, of the referral is borne out by the casual nature of the communication of the referral and the failure to respond to the request to give information to Beverley Robinson.  The evidence discloses that the claimant’s case was firmly closed by a refusal to treat her as a child in need at the moment the voicemail message had been left to Ms Evans and it was considered that responsibility had been passed to others. 

14. The July 2007 decision cannot stand.  The summary consideration given to the referral fell far below the standard required by law.  The fact that the claimant had been in the refuge for some 4 months should have given rise to concern.  The Social Services authority must have been aware of the undesirability of a 17 year old being housed with adults in temporary accommodation for victims of domestic violence for such an extended period of time.  It is difficult to see how any Social Services authority could have concluded that the claimant’s housing needs had been properly met for some 4 months, nor how it could have concluded that suitable accommodation could be provided in a hostel.  The Social Services authority paid no regard to the fact that it was the worker at the refuge who had applied for Social Services to support the claimant because she was “vulnerable and lacked ‘life skills’”.  Had the refuge considered that the claimant’s needs could have been met simply by a housing application under Part VII Housing Act 1996, it could have applied to the housing department.

15. The defendant paid no proper regard to the stated vulnerability of the claimant.  In so far as it paid regard to the suggested lack of life skills, it concluded that the “Big Sister Scheme” met such needs and then failed to communicate this part of its decision.  It paid no regard to the fact that she had been the victim of violence and made no inquiries about the extent and nature of the violence.  It assumed, without inquiry, that the “family” could assist or, if not, victim support would be adequate.  The assumptions should not have been made without inquiry.  Inquiry would have demonstrated them to be false and without weight.

16. The decision cannot stand.  That being the case, I turn to the question whether any reasonable authority acting lawfully would have been bound to conclude that the claimant was a child in need in July 2007.

17. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 defines a child in need as follows:

“(10) For the purposes of this Part a child shall be taken to be in need if—

(a) he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him of services by a local authority under this Part;
(b) his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or
(c) he is disabled,

and "family", in relation to such a child, includes any person who has parental responsibility for the child and any other person with whom he has been living.

(11) For the purposes of this Part, a child is disabled if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from mental disorder of any kind or is substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or such other disability as may be prescribed; and in this Part—

“development” means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development; and
“health” means physical or mental health.”

Nicole Evans’ letter dated 9th August 2007 to the Lewisham Housing Option Centre
18. Nicole Evans and the claimant did not delay in preparing a request for housing under section 183 of the Housing Act 1996.  The letter, dated 9th August, stated, so far as the details of domestic violence and abuse were concerned:

“[MM] is a vulnerable 17 year old who has escaped from domestic violence, including physical abuse, emotional and mental torment which [MM] experienced from her ex partner on a daily basis. 

Please find enclosed a copy of [MM’s] client’s statement which states details of domestic violence/abuse which [MM] has endured.  [MM] has informed me that she did not contact the police, there could be a number of reasons for this, including fear of reprisals from the perpetrator, and fear that she would not be taken seriously.  Many women suffering from domestic violence feel embarrassed, or that the situation is their fault.”

The letter referred to the claimant having a priority need, because “she has suffered from domestic violence which has impacted on her mental and physical health”.  It drew attention of the authority to the duty to make reasonable inquiries into the case and to issue her with written notification of the decision.  It referred to the fact that, although alternative safe accommodation had been found at the refuge, the refuge only provided temporary accommodation and that the residents were licensees having no exclusive use of any room and it could not be viewed as a long-term solution to homelessness and it concluded by saying that:

“… due to the nature of this matter, I would appreciate it if you could give [MM’s] case consideration as soon as possible”.

19. It follows that had Marinda Beaton made inquiries of the refuge she would have been informed that the move to a hostel was no longer being contemplated, because the claimant did not wish to make an interim move (see claimant’s witness statement).  It would have been plain that the refuge could not be regarded as meeting her housing needs.  She would have been provided with a client statement detailing the abuse she had suffered.  Further, Marinda Beaton would have been informed that the degree of abuse had given rise to “emotional and mental torment” and that it had impacted on the claimant’s “mental and physical health”.

20. In my judgment had the Social Services authority been possessed of that information it would have been bound to carry out an initial assessment.  In my judgment it would have been bound to conclude that the claimant needed to be provided with accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 because:

(1) the claimant was in urgent need of accommodation;
(2) the claimant’s health or development was likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, if she was not provided with accommodation;
because (3) the claimant was affected by “emotional and mental torment”; 
and (4) her emotional development was clearly at risk.

It follows that in my judgment, on the basis of the information which could have been provided by the refuge, no reasonable authority could have decided not to carry out an assessment.  Further, unless the inquiries made upon the assessment were such so as to remove the risk to the claimant’s health and development, it would have been clear that the defendant was under “… an absolute duty to provide accommodation…” because “… one of the specified circumstances” existed (see Dyson LJ in Regina (M) v Gateshead MBC [2006] EWCA Civ 221, [2006] QB 650 at [33]).

21. With the above in mind, I turn to the Housing Act application (briefly) and to the December 2007 Social Services assessment in order to see whether any material would have supported a view different from the inevitable preliminary conclusion to which I have referred in the previous paragraph.

The Housing Act Application in August 2007
22. The claimant attended a homelessness application with the Homeless Youth Prevention Housing Option Centre on 9th August 2007 but nothing happened thereafter.  The longer the period of inactivity on the part of the Housing Department the greater the risk to the claimant.  In reality had there been an initial assessment, there would have been no housing application.  There was no consideration at all.  By her letter of 26th October, Nicole Evans sought temporary accommodation.  She referred to the fact that the claimant had spent nearly 8 months at the refuge and that the refuge accommodation was not suitable for her and remaining there was having a detrimental effect on her wellbeing.  The letter referred to the fact that her case was supported by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Practitioner at Lewisham Children and Young Persons Services.  It recorded that the claimant felt extremely uncomfortable about having to live in the refuge and it was her belief that her wellbeing would only be alleviated by a move out of the refuge into accommodation in an area where she felt safe and comfortable.  Nicole Evans pointed out that the refuge was not able to offer accommodation suited to the claimant’s psychological and emotional wellbeing.  Rather than supporting a conclusion that the “specified circumstances” did not exist, these matters would have confirmed the conclusion.

23. There was no response or action in reply to this letter.  Fortunately, as a result, solicitors were instructed for the claimant on 21st November 2007 and by 29th November 2007 they had formulated a pre-action letter addressed to Lewisham Social Services.  This letter gave notice that by no later than 3rd December 2007 Social Services were required to carry out an assessment to determine whether the claimant was a child in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989.  The letter went on to give notice that if there was no such confirmation they would assume that Lewisham Social Services were not prepared to carry out an assessment and that there would be no alternative but to grant emergency public funding to pursue a claim for Judicial Review.

24. The letter had the desired effect for it was responded to by Alison Newbold for Head of Law at Lewisham Legal Services by a letter dated 3rd December 2007 to say that the assessment would be undertaken within seven working days and that an appointment had been allocated with a social worker and that a copy of the assessment would be forwarded to the solicitors along with a decision in respect of whether a core assessment was necessary.  The response from Alison Newbold made no reference to section 20 of the Children Act 1989, namely whether the claimant would be accommodated under that section of the Children Act 1989.  It is possible that the claimant herself made it clear in her interview that she wished to remain in the refuge and not have interim accommodation (see letter Lewisham Legal Services dated 14th December 2007).  There then ensued some dispute as to whether or not the claimant had said that she did not want interim accommodation.  By 14th December 2007 there had been no assessment or a decision in respect of whether a core assessment was necessary.  But on that same date an assessment was forwarded from Alison Newbold. 

The December 2007 Children Act Assessment
25. The assessment set out the claimant’s history in some detail.  But it concluded that she was “safe in refuge and she is able to stay there until Housing make a decision as to whether they can provide her with permanent accommodation.”  In my judgment, this was an unsustainable conclusion on the need for housing (whether under the Children Act or the Housing Act) and would have been equally unsustainable in August 2007.  The assessment was made after cursory contact with the Housing Department and without any consideration of what would happen if the Housing Department did not accommodate her.  There was no consideration of what duty Children’s Social Services may have owed to the claimant because a summary conclusion had been reached that her needs could be met by the Housing Department.  There was no assessment of how her difficult background, early involvement with mental health services (which had now become apparent), breakdown of her relationship with her mother (which had now become apparent) and experience of violence would affect her as she entered adulthood.  More than that, the conclusion that she could remain in the refuge was flawed because it was not informed by consideration of her anxieties of living at the refuge or the fact that she had been living at the refuge for more than nine months and that it was not and never had been appropriate accommodation for a 17 year old.  Further, nobody at the refuge had been contacted to obtain information about the claimant. 

26. I should comment on the internal documents of Lewisham which shed light on the process adopted in connection with the assessment.  The decision to make an initial assessment is explained under the heading “Further Action”.  Having referred to the contact by solicitors representing the claimant, requesting that an initial assessment should be undertaken within seven days, it records that the initial assessment will be carried out:

“We will undertake an IA.  Please note that if we undertake a core assessment, [MM] would in fact turn 18 and therefore be ineligible for services from this department before the CA timescale would expire.

It appears that [MM] is seeking to be housed.  She is already accessing counselling via CAMHS. 

Complete an IA.  Please, if [MM] consents, contact Bexley’s Children’s Social Care for background information, and also discuss her needs and support she is receiving from the D.V refuge/key worker at that agency.  Also, please ensure that [MM] is provided with all relevant advice regarding accessing housing, that she is registered with a GP and able to thereby access secondary health services such as counselling via that route if necessary. 

A copy of the IA will need to be provided to [MM] and will need to also be provided to her solicitors please via Legal Social Care.”

27. In fairness, it can be said that some thought was given to the manner in which the claimant’s needs could be met but the common underlying thought was how they could be met by others and that a core assessment would occur after she had reached the age of 18.  This could not have been a factor in August.

28. The record of the assessment records much information which, had proper inquiries been made in July 2007, would have been available for the assessment made at that date.  But critically, the assessment contains the following note about her housing application:

“She has applied to Housing Options for her hostel accommodation but she said she had not heard back from them in five months.  I have contacted Ingrid Daly (Housing Officer) and she advised that they had not yet made a decision in relation to [MM].”

As can be seen from paragraph 31 below, the communication with Ingrid Daly barely constituted meaningful contact.  Further, it is a matter for serious concern that no regard was paid to the months the claimant had been waiting for Housing to respond.  Housing had not only failed to make a decision, they had not even communicated with Nicole Evans at the refuge to inquire about the current position of the claimant.

29. The analysis concluded as follows:

“[MM] cannot see herself living back with her mother and wants to be living independently.  Housing will not [sic] to make a decision as to whether they will be providing assistance to [MM], and she will continue to be supported by the refuge worker.  Another service that would be beneficial for [MM] is the Lewisham Youth Service Key Worker Programme.  They will introduce a key worker for one-on-one intense support and also look at an individual development plan.  I have passed on contact details for [MM] to refer herself to this service.  [MM] would like to be settled and independent so that she can carry on with her life.  [MM] is safe in refuge and she is able to stay there until Housing make a decision as to whether they can provide her with permanent accommodation.  If [MM] chooses to she can access services such as counselling, mentoring and support through Lewisham Youth Services Key Worker Programme.  I recommend that this case be closed as [MM’s] needs are being met.”

In my judgment, this was not a conclusion which was open to the defendant in December 2007 and a fortiori would not have been open to it in August 2007.  Then no further action was explained in this way:

“[MM] is in a refuge and is receiving support from a Refuge worker.  I feel that [MM] would further benefit from being involved with the Lewisham Youth Service Key Worker Programme and have passed on this information to her.  I do not see a need for her to be accommodated and recommend no further action.”

30. On receipt of this decision, the solicitors for the claimant went on to pursue the Housing Act application.

The Challenge to the November 2007 Social Services Assessment
31. For the purposes of completeness, I shall outline the challenge to the November 2007 decision.  In the light of my conclusion on the preliminary submission, it does not arise as a substantive issue.  The substance of the criticism is that the Social Services Department gave no real consideration to anything other than the housing issue and the need, such as they saw it, for accommodation to be provided for the claimant.  Despite listing her record and the difficult background she had endured, which included her early involvement with mental health services, a breakdown of her relationship with her mother and violence at the hands of her boyfriend, it made no assessment in this regard.  It paid no regard to the anxieties the claimant had expressed about living in the refuge and relied too heavily on her stoic acceptance of her position.  Had proper regard been paid to the length of time she had been at the refuge, it could not have concluded that she was adequately accommodated there, until such time as the Housing Department had made a decision.  As to that, as I have foreshadowed, the only contact with the Housing Department was on 6th December 2007 when the social worker, Pannia Coates, spoke with Ingrid Daly and the detailed notes merely read as follows:

“Ingrid was interviewing when I called her and was unable to speak.  She said that [the claimant’s] name did ring a bell and they were investigating the situation further.  They have not made a decision in relation to [the claimant’s case] yet.  As long as she is housed at refugee [sic] she is considered to be safe.”

It seems remarkable that Housing could have reached any proper conclusion about how appropriate the refuge was.  It had not contacted the refuge.  Yet Social Services in exercising their duty simply followed the same conclusion.  The fact that there had been no progress with Housing for five months gave rise to no concern or consideration on the part of Social Services, no attention was given to the inadequacies as they were by then recorded of her continuing to live in the refuge and no contact was made with the refuge in order to obtain information as to her present state.  It is plain from the record that the claimant herself was, stoically, expressing hope for the future and expressing some views about being content with the present situation so far as it was only a temporary situation, but none of that detracted from the obvious need, in my judgment, that existed for a proper assessment to be made as to whether or not she was in need. 

32. Mr Harrop-Griffiths, Counsel for Lewisham, made a number of points in response to these criticisms.  First, he relied upon the fact that the social worker had contacted the housing officer involved and had been advised a decision on the claimant’s application had yet to be made.  He submits it was unnecessary for the local authority to speculate as to what may happen if this decision went against her.  He submitted the social worker specifically addressed the issue of whether the claimant needed to be accommodated by Lewisham as a Social Services authority and concluded she did not.  Further, the principal issue was whether she was a child in need of services under part 3 of the Children Act 1989, in respect of which it is clear, he submitted, from the assessment that matters concerning her mental health, her relationship with her mother and the violence she had experienced were fully explored and considered.  He also referred to the absence of any continuing anxieties being expressed by the claimant about living at the refuge, although she had complained about being bullied in the past.  She had said that it was fine living there at the moment and that she had a key worker there who had been helping her with services.  As a result, the social worker concluded that the claimant was safe at the refuge and could stay there until Housing made its decision.  He submitted it was obviously not necessary for Social Services to speak to staff at the refuge about her.  For these reasons, he submitted, the decision made in November 2007 was not unlawful and that all relevant matters had been taken into account.  If, which he did not admit, the assessment in July 2007 was unlawful, then he submitted that there is no reason to believe that the result would have been any different had it been carried out in accordance with the inquiries and information which were available in November.

33. At the conclusion of oral argument it became apparent that Counsel wished to advance the submissions, which had not yet been refined in connection with the November 2007 assessment, with a view to addressing the extent to which it was required of Lewisham Social Services Department that it consider the future needs of the claimant.  As a result, detailed submissions were lodged which the Court has considered.

The Housing Act Application
34. Eventually, by a letter dated 27th December 2007, the defendant accepted (as at the date of that decision) that the claimant was homeless and in priority need and entitled to accommodation under Part VII of the 1996 Act.

Final Conclusion
35. Out of deference to the detail and care with which Counsel have considered the case, I should state that had I not concluded that the only reasonable conclusion to which the defendant could have come after lawful consideration of the facts in July/August 2007 was that the claimant should be accommodated under section 20 Children Act then I would not have considered it appropriate, on the facts of this case, to have concluded that the decision would have been the same as it was in December 2007 because:

(1) I do not believe it would have been possible to look at the December 2007 decision and extract facts and the weight attached to the facts which by the passage of time were only available in December 2007.  The exercise would have involved an unacceptable degree of “second guessing”.

Further, and in any event,

(2) the December 2007 assessment was flawed for the reasons I have given;
(3) whether or not the future should be specifically considered in detail will vary in accordance with the facts.

36. In the result, the claimant is entitled to a declaration that she should have been accommodated for at least 13 weeks before she became 18 on 9th January 2008 and is now a former relevant child.

37. I would urge the defendant to take action to ensure that:

(1) child in need assessments are not carried out in a summary manner as occurred in this case;
(2) that its Housing Department do not simply fail to respond to applications in respect of children;
(3) that steps are taken to ensure that the imminence of a child attaining 18 years is not taken as a basis for failing to take any action; and
(4) that there is due and proper contact between its housing authority and its Social Services authority.