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LOCAL AUTHORITY/HOUSING: R (S) v Sutton London Borough Council

Date:18 MAY 2007

(Queens Bench Division (Administrative Court); Stanley Burton J; 18 May 2007)

The 17 year old child, who was estranged from the mother, was remanded to local authority care in the course of criminal proceedings and eventually granted bail on condition that she reside with the father. After only 2 days the placement failed because, according to the father, the child did not get on well with the father's new partner. The child was convicted and received a detention and training order. During her detention the child claimed that on her release the local authority had a duty to house her under Children Act 1989, s 20, as a child in need who required accommodation because the person who had been caring for her was prevented from providing her with suitable accommodation or care. The authority carried out two assessments, but did not accept that the child required accommodation under s 20. Instead, a local housing authority offered the child hostel accommodation, which she accepted the day before her release from detention. She sought judicial review of the decisions. Government guidance urged local authorities to take the wishes of the child into account when determining whether the child should be provided with accommodation under s 20, or whether other services under s 17 were better suited to the child's circumstances.

The statutory provisions and the guidance could be reconciled by focusing on the condition that the child must require accommodation; if a local authority lawfully concluded that a child required only help with accommodation, assuming it to be suitable, the child did not require housing under s 20. Although for the purposes of s 20(1)(c) prevention undoubtedly involved an objective test that would not be satisfied if the child simply did not want to live with someone who was willing to provide suitable accommodation, it was possible for people to be so incompatible that they simply could not live together. In this case, the speed with which the child's placement with the father had broken down supported the conclusion that he could not provide her with accommodation, so that s 20(1)(c) was satisfied. However, the conclusion reached by the authority that s 20 accommodation was not suitable for the child was amply justified, the child had accepted alternative accommodation and she did not, therefore, require housing under s 20. The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 did not exclude the power of a local authority to provide accommodation to a child, aged 16 or 17, who was not in priority need. Nonetheless, the authority had failed to carry out a lawful assessment of the child's needs; the assessments had been descriptive, insufficiently assessed the child's need, failed to look forward and failed to plan to meet the child's needs in all required areas.