Natalie Connor examines a recent Administrative Court ruling on whether a council had complied with its duty under s.17 Children Act 1989.
In R (on the application of CO & Anor) v Lewisham London Borough Council (16 June 2017) the Administrative Court has confirmed that the duty on local authorities under s.17 of the Children Act 1989 is an ongoing one and held that Lewisham London Borough Council had acted irrationally in concluding in a follow-up assessment that a mother had the means to provide her children with accommodation and that the children were not in need within the meaning of s.17.
The claimant siblings, aged 8 and 11, applied for judicial review of Lewisham London Borough Council’s finding that they were not children in need under the Children Act 1989.
The children’s mother had been granted leave to remain in the UK until September 2017 with the condition that she had no recourse to public funds. While she was initially supported by her sisters, family and friends, and the children’s father, such that the local authority initially decided that the children were not in need, this support was later withdrawn.
The children had been living with their mother in unstable accommodation since March 2017, including in hotel rooms and a hospital emergency room. However, in its follow-up assessment, the local authority placed heavy reliance on its earlier decision and doubted whether the mother was truthfully reporting these circumstances.
It was held that the obligation on the local authority under s.17 was an ongoing one and it had a duty to reassess the family’s needs once they were no longer in stable accommodation. The local authority failed in that duty as, by failing in the follow-up assessment to take any or proper account of the explanations for the withdrawal of support by the mother’s sisters and the children’s father, it did not get a full and accurate picture of the family’s situation. Given that the mother could not support the children using her own resources alone, and given that the family had been in unstable accommodation for some time, the decision that the children were not in need was irrational.
Furthermore, the local authority should have given the mother a list of all her claims that it believed lacked credibility so she had the opportunity to provide them with further information. The failure to do so amounted to procedural unfairness.
Given the instability of their accommodation, the appropriate outcome was for the local authority to provide accommodation for the children and the mother together, since there were no other concerns about the care the mother gave to the children.
Since it had not properly ensured that the children were safeguarded since March 2017, the local authority had failed in its statutory duty.