Discharge of Section 20 Children Act 1989 duty to provide accommodation to a 17-year-old boy who repeatedly refused to be placed

Tuesday 4 October 2016

R (on the application of A) v Haringey LBC, unreported, Queen’s Bench Division (Administrative Court), 16 September 2016 A local authority had done all that was reasonably practicable to discharge its duty pursuant to s.20 of the Children Act 1989 to provide accommodation to a 17-year-old boy who repeatedly refused to be placed.

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A local authority had done all that was reasonably practicable to discharge its duty pursuant to s.20 of the Children Act 1989 to provide accommodation to a 17-year-old boy who repeatedly refused to be placed.

R (on the application of A) v Haringey LBC, unreported, 16 September 2016 Queen’s Bench Division (Administrative Court).

The claimant had been a looked after child by Haringey LBC. He had a history of offending and violent behaviour. Two previous placements in residential homes had been terminated due to the claimant’s behaviour. As a result of London providers refusing to accept the claimant, Haringey found and offered him a placement in Nottingham. The claimant refused this offer and refused to engage with Haringey.

The claimant, who was soon to turn 18 years old, brought a challenge against Haringey’s decision to offer him a placement in Nottingham asserting that this did not amount to a discharge of their duties.

The court identified that the legislation at the heart of the claimant’s challenge produced two possibilities:

  • a failure by the local authority to meet the s.20 obligation to provide accommodation and a misunderstanding of its obligation;
  • the local authority's approach under 22C(5) could be questioned as a child had to be placed in the most appropriate placement.

In dismissing the claim, Timothy Straker QC held that Haringey had done all that could be expected. Haringey required the claimant’s cooperation, which had not been forthcoming.

The court summarised the scope of the s.20 duty when faced with a run away or uncooperative child;

(a) the duty persisted whether or not a child was a runaway;

(b) the duty was performed by the provision of accommodation; the actions of a child did not mean that a duty had not been performed;

(c) if a runaway child was found, the local authority still had an obligation to perform the duty;

(d) if a child did not materialise, the local authority could not keep open a placement at cost; if the child returned the local authority could fulfil its duty. The duty to accommodate was not an absolute duty; it had to be seen in light of a child's cooperation and finite resources.

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