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Government refuses local authorities further funds in wake of Southwark judgment

Local authorities express concern about extra responsibilities incurred under section 20 of the Children Act

Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, has indicated to local authorities that the Government will not provide additional funds to help them meet their responsibilities resulting from the House of Lords judgment in R (on the application of G) v London Borough of Southwark [2009] UKHL 26.

The Minister was meeting Shireen Ritchie, Chairman of the Children and Young People Board of the Local Government Association. In the meeting Councillor Ritchie set out the Association’s concerns about the resource impact of assessing and meeting the needs of young people under children in need legislation. Cllr Ritchie conveyed that the volume of young people affected is likely to be significant based on the estimates from local authorities to date.

The Minister was reluctant to accept that this in any way represented a new burden, arguing that the Southwark judgment clarifies duties already placed on local government.

In May 2009 the House of Lords found that a 17 year old who had been assisted by the housing department met the criteria for accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The Court interpreted the law differently from the way in which many local authorities had understood it. The Lords ruled that the primary duty to accommodate lay under the Children Act 1989, rather than the Housing Act 1996.

In the opinion of the Association, the Children Act carries with it more extensive obligations to provide ongoing services and therefore has significant resource implications.  The Association considers that the judgment is likely to increase the numbers of young people in care; increase cost pressures as certain benefits will cease; increase the number of young people entitled to leaving care services; and entitle those young people to an allocated social worker.

From a survey conducted amongst local authorities, LGA advisers have estimated that 12,400 16 and 17 year olds are currently being supported by housing and will need to be reassessed under the Children Act. The survey of Directors of Children’s Services identified that the cost of reassessing those 16 and 17 year olds is likely to be £74m in the first year after the judgment. In addition, the LGA estimates that the cost of providing leaving care services to those young people could amount to a further £17 million.

The Children and Young People Board meet on the 19th January to discuss this and other matters.

An article by David Bedingfield which considers the background to and implications of the judgment can be read here.