Berkeley Lifford Hall Accountancy ServicesHousing Law WeekAlphabiolabs

Age assessment of young people in the immigration system is ‘too long and adversarial’

New report from Coram Children’s Legal Centre calls for changes in practice

A new report – Happy Birthday? Disputing the age of children in the immigration system – from Coram Children's Legal Centre examines the age assessment process and the practical and emotional impact of age disputes on young people in the immigration system. The report reveals the human cost of a process which, it concludes, can be too long, too adversarial and fails to adequately consider the needs of the individuals involved. It highlights the impact on local authorities and the courts, and the financial cost of a system in which litigation is so often the only means of resolution.

In England and Wales, a local authority has a duty to support a separated migrant child under the Children Act 1989 as a 'child in need'. The child's age determines the type of support and accommodation the local authority should provide and whether they will be eligible for leaving care support on turning 18. Age assessment, says Coram, is of vital significance in both immigration and social care contexts, and at present both immigration officials and social workers will make decisions about a child's age, sometimes with conflicting views being taken. Overall, nearly a quarter of all those applying for asylum as children have their ages disputed, according to Home Office statistics.

Responses to a Freedom of Information request to 27 local authorities revealed wide variations in the practice of both assessing age and record-keeping with regards to separated children. Of the 22 which provided figures, between them they had conducted 697 age assessments over two years. The statistics revealed wide variation in local authority practice – for example, while three local authorities assessed all of those referred to them as separated children, the majority assessed fewer than half. Most of those which assessed in higher numbers then went on to find over half to be over 18, compared to the local authority average of 70% of individuals being assessed to be children.

 The report explores means of improving the current process and alternative ways to address the issue of age that work in the interests of children and young people. It calls for positive action from central and local government to implement practical changes so that children do not continue to bear the brunt of, what it describes as, "a deeply flawed and costly system".

The report can be read here.