Homeless Child Lawfully Housed Under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 in 2011??!!??

The Garden Court Chambers bulletin for 25 October 2011 reports the strange Judicial Review decision in the case of R(B) v Nottingham CC [2011] EWHC (Admin) [2011] All ER (D) 180 (Oct) where it is reported that the claimant was a pregnant girl aged 16. Her mother was not prepared to accommodate her and the expected baby. The claimant sought assistance with accommodation and was provided with a place in a specialist unit for pregnant teenagers under the homelessness duty in Housing Act 1996 section 193. She sought judicial review of decisions by the council’s social services department not to treat her as a ‘child’ to whom it owed duties under Children Act 1989 sections 17-20. Her claim was dismissed. The council had been entitled to find that she was not a ‘child in need’ and that she had suitable accommodation in the unit.

This case seems to me to be wrongly decided and is crying out for appeal. This is because the previous House of Lords R (G) v Southwark [2009] UKHL 26 (See Nearly Legal Post for Summary) made it as clear as I thought it could be made that homeless teenagers should not be dealt with under the Housing Act 1996 but under the Children Act 1989. In this new case it seems that the coucncil housed a 16 year old under the Housing Act 1996 and got away with it. Maybe I am missing something. I don’t think a full report is avaiable yet.

If anyone can shed any light I would be very grateful for a comment here or an email to me at wflack63@gmail.com.

  • http://www.hahlegal.co.uk HAH Legal

    In R (B) v Nottingham City Council QBD (Admin) 20/10/2011 (only a note on Lawtel at the moment) Singh J held that A local authority had not erred in finding that a 16-year-old girl had not been a child in need and entitled to accommodation under the Children Act 1989 s.20.

    The reason for this was that she could have remained in the family home temporarily and she had been provided with accommodation under the Housing Act 1996 s.193.

    The claimant (B) applied for judicial review of Nottingham’s decision to not treat her as a “child in need” under the Children Act 1989. B had been living with her mother in the family home when B discovered that she was pregnant. Her mother informed her that once the child was born she would not allow her and the baby to remain there. As a result B, then aged 16, sought accommodation from the local authority’s housing department as a homeless person. B accepted a place at a facility aimed at teenagers who were pregnant or mothers and remained there until after her child was born. In the meantime a social worker carried out two assessments and saw no need for the involvement of the local authority’s children’s services. B also stated that she did not wish to be accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 Act as she was satisfied with the facility but that she wished to move to a semi-independent lodging and wanted to be considered a child in need. The court considered, amongst other things, whether Nottingham erred in not recognising B as a child in need and whether Nottingham owed or continued to owe a duty to provide accommodation under section 20.

    Singh J held that whilst it might be that the functions of a local housing authority and a children’s services authority might overlap, it remained the case that they had different functions. It was common ground that if a child lacked accommodation that person would be a child in need. However, in the instant case the view was taken that B had accommodation available to her. It was also common ground that a parent might be prevented from providing accommodation within the meaning of section 20(1)(c) of the 1989 Act, although they were not physically and legally prevented from doing so, as the provisions were to be read in a broad purposive manner. Therefore, in the instant case, a parent who could provide accommodation could be said to be prevented from providing accommodation if they were adamant about excluding a child from the family home. However, whilst the mother did not want B to remain living with her after she gave birth, she was not insistent about her moving out immediately. B moved out because a place had become available. It was rational for the local authority to decide that B had accommodation at her mothers house and it was open to it decide that B was not a child in need. It was possible, until the birth, for B to remain at the family home, and she was provided with accommodation at the facility. Therefore, Nottingham’s assessment was not irrational or unlawful.

    Therefore the second question did not arise, as it was clear that one of the conditions for the duty to accommodate to arise was that a person was a child in need. In any event, the local authority could reasonably conclude that the child in need criteria was not met. B did not require accommodation as accommodation was being and would continue to be provided.

  • http://www.wflack.com William Flack

    Thank you for your extremely quick and detailed comment HAH Legal.

    I still don’t understand here why the council accepted a duty to this person under Part 7 if she did not have to leave her mother’s home yet. The duty under the Housing Act 1996 would not kick in until she was homeless or threatened with homelessness within 28 days. At the point where either of these situations were considered to have arisen it appears to me that the Housing Department should not have processed the homelessness application but should have referred her to the Children’s Services Department for an assessment and to be looked after under Section 20 of the children Act 1989.

    What happened appears to have amounted to a council again sidestepping the duties which should later be owed towards a homeless young person under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and getting away with it. I thought that the Supreme Court had made it clear that this sort of thing was to stop.

    Sorry if I am missing something. Please set me straight if you think I am. Do you know if there is going to be an appeal?

  • http://www.hahlegal.co.uk HAH Legal

    The local housing authority must have accepted that it was unreasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy the parental home or else the s.193 duty never arose to begin with. It must have been on point because the local housing authority intervened and found her accommodation in some sort of mother and baby unit. It seems that a child in need assessment was carried out –both before and after the placement, but social services decided that she was not a child in need. That was plainly wrong. The clear intention of the Children Act 1989 is that these young people need more than a roof over their heads and that social services authorities cannot avoid their responsibilities by saying that there is accommodation available at home when (a) the mother had made it clear she did not want her daughter at home, (b) the local authority had already decided she was homeless and (c) she was living in a mother and baby unit during the initial assessments.

    Counsel for the claimant was Azeem Suterwalla of Doughty Street who was also involved in R (G) v The London Borough of Southwark [2009], so we’re a little puzzled about the outcome in the instant case. This was only a permission hearing but hopefully the transcript will be available soon, which might shed some light on the issues.

  • http://www.wflack.com William Flack

    Thanks again for your input. I am glad that you too are puzzled about this decision and that it is not just me being thick and missing something. I guess we will have to wait now for more information to become available before we can figure out how Singh J came to this decision. At first glance it appears to fly in the face of the Supreme Court decision in R (G) v The London Borough of Southwark [2009].

  • Catherine Green

    lexisnexis.co.uk has a useful commentary on this case. I am a housing manager in a local authority trying to agree our approach with such cases with social services. Where are we if there is direct access accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds (funded by the local authority but not requiring a homeless decision or social care assessement for entry)- they are housed by neither service.