Credibility a factor in local authority decision on whether children are destitute and ‘in need’ of s17 support

Tuesday 24 May 2016

R (on the application of AE & AO) v Lewishan LBC (extempore judgment on 6 May 2016)

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R (on the application of AE & AO) v Lewishan LBC (extempore judgment on 6 May 2016)

A local authority is entitled to take a view as to the parents’ credibility in deciding whether the children were destitute and therefore ‘in need’ of s17 support.

Judicial review claim brought by two young children (ages 9 and 7) to challenge the refusal of the local authority to provide then with section 17 support as destitute children.

Their parents were Nigerian citizens and overstayers. The request for support from the local authority came after the father lost his job and just before being evicted from their home on the basis that they were destitute. The local authority determined that the children were not ‘in need’ within the meaning of s17(10), Children Act 1989, relying inter alia on material non-disclosure by parents of their financial history, credit checks revealing accounts in credit and a finding that the parents’ assertion they have no support network in the UK after overstaying for 12 years was incredible.

According to the Lawtel summary of the case, the arguments before the court were that (1) too high a threshold was adopted for consideration of whether the children were destitute and that it was wrong to impose a high standard of proof on the children to prove destitution; (2) in any event the conclusion the children were not destitute was irrational.

According to Lawtel, the Court dismissed the judicial review finding that:

  1. Assessments of needs are an evaluative exercise taking into account all facts and circumstances in the round made by social workers with expertise. Taken overall, the approach taken in the instant case had not been erroneous.
  2. The local authority had taken care in reaching its assessment and made enquiries into the family’s resources. Although the assessment acknowledged factors pointing to destitution, there were other factors of concern regarding the parents’ financial resources which justified the conclusion arrived at by the social worker. The social worker was entitled to draw adverse inferences relating to the fact that the parents provided scant details on how the family was supported in the past. The conclusion was not irrational.

No transcript is yet available on this case but judging by the Lawtel summary, the Judge adopted the same approach as was taken by the same judge (Langstaff J) in R. (on the application of MN) v Hackney LBC [2013] EWHC 1205 (Admin).

There are two other recent judgments relating to migrant families requesting section 17 Children Act 1989 support: R (O) v LB of Lambeth [2016] EWHC 937 (Admin) and R (Antwa) v LB of Lambeth (extempore 10/3/2016), both of which adopt a similar approach to the assessment of credibility and reliance on adverse inferences in child in need assessments.

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