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Court of Appeal calls on local authorities to meet their obligations to homeless 16 and 17 year olds

Court identifies failure of coordination between local authority departments

The Court of Appeal has called on local authorities to take urgent steps to meet their legal obligations to homeless 16 and 17 year olds. ?

The judgment in R (TG) v London Borough of Lambeth [2011] EWCA Civ 526 concludes a case brought against the local authority by a young man known as 'TG' for failing to meet its legal obligation to provide him with ongoing care and support when he was a homeless teenager.?

The local authority had provided accommodation for TG between March and October 2006 when he was aged 16 and 17.  The accommodation was provided by Lambeth as a local housing authority pursuant to its interim duty under s.188 of the Housing Act 1996. The local authority conceded that "in all probability" the accommodation should have been provided by it as a children's services authority pursuant to a duty under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 rather than by it as a housing authority under the Housing Act 1996.

The appeal turned on whether the law therefore treats or deems the accommodation to have been provided under s.20 or not.

By virtue of the social worker being the "eyes and ears" of the children and families division in the Youth Offending Scheme that she represented, the Court of Appeal held that her actions were properly imputed to that division. Thus the appellant was declared a "former relevant child" for the purposes of s.23C Children Act 1989 and it was found that the authority had failed to provide him with ongoing care and support as set out in that section.

Lord Justice Wilson said that the case should 'serve to advertise the need for all local authorities to take urgent steps to remedy any such failure.'?He added that he had no doubt that 'a substantial number of vulnerable children are still suffering from a failure of coordination between these two departments within a number of English local authorities.'

Welcoming the court's decision, Campbell Rob, the chief executive of Shelter, which intervened in the proceedings, said:

'This judgment confirms once again the clear legal duty councils have to ensure that joint protocols are in place to properly assess homeless teenagers.?

'Unfortunately many councils have still not put these procedures in place, meaning that a vulnerable homeless child was denied the proper care and support he needed and was entitled to.?

'We hope this judgment acts as a clear signal to all councils to urgently put joint procedures in place so that no more children are let down by these failings.'?