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Homeless teenager 'denied proper care' by council

16 May 2011

Lambeth Council acted unlawfully by referring a teenager to its homeless people’s unit and not to its children’s services department, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The result was that ‘TG’, now 21, was given accommodation but not the support he would have received as a looked after child.

Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, said the judgment confirmed the “clear legal duty” councils were under to ensure joint protocols were 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,” Robb said.

“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.”

Delivering judgment in R (on the application of TG) v London Borough of Lambeth [2011] EWCA Civ 526, Lord Justice Wilson said the absence of coordination between the council’s housing and its children’s services department was “positively unlawful”.

The court heard that TG was six when he moved from Jamaica, where he was living with his father, to England. He was 15 and living with his mother when he started getting into trouble with the police.

Between March 2005 and January 2007, eight social workers with Lambeth Youth Offending Service (YOS) had dealings with TG. One of them helped him secure accommodation under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996.

Having concluded that TG was a “child in need” under the Children Act 1989, Wilson LJ said the social worker involved should have referred him to the children’s services department.

He said TG sought the status of “former relevant child” because, even though he was 21, this would give him access to a “pathway plan” and a personal adviser under section 23C of the Children Act 1989.

Wilson LJ said the social worker involved was “not merely a qualified social worker with experience of social work in relation to children – her membership of the YOS reflected a statutory requirement that at least one of its members should have such experience”.

Lord Justice Wilson said that, as member of the YOS, the social worker acted as the “eyes and ears” of the children’s services department.

He said he disagreed with the trial judge that TG had to show that the department had acted “in the ordinary course” and said that the social worker’s actions could be “imputed” to the department.

He set aside the trial judge’s dismissal of TG’s claim for judicial review and declared that, from the time of TG’s eighteenth birthday, he had the status of “former relevant child”.

However, Wilson LJ ruled that article 8 of the ECHR had not been breached and TG should not receive damages. Lord Justice Toulson and the Master of the Rolls agreed.

Shelter intervened in the case, represented on a pro bono basis by Richard Gordon QC and Freshfields. Lord Justice Wilson referred to a survey carried out by Children’s Legal Services into coordination between housing and children’s services departments in local authorities in England, which failed to generate a response from two thirds of them.

Wilson LJ added that he had no doubt that, irrespective of the results of the appeal, “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”.

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