S17 Children Act duty an on-going one, highlights court judgement

As many who follow our work know, we were recently involved in a case that went to the High Court concerning the nature of the S17 duty and whether or not is an on-going one. 

We provided specialist assessment and continue to provide family support to the mother and the children. The results of the judgement have now been published and pose interesting questions about the S17 Children Act Duty. 

For a legal commentary on this case, see this blog by the chambers of Sam Jacobs, who was instructed on this case.

This judgement has potentially significant meaning in the context of how families with NRPF restrictions are treated by Local Authorities. The judgement highlighted that the duty under S17 is an on-going one and that once the family were no longer in stable accommodation, had a duty to reassess. When a second assessment of need was carried out, much of the evidence provided was not taken into account. 

The judgement also found the decision not to find the children in need irrational. The judgement highlighted concerns about the case becoming more about a battle between the Local Authority and the Mother, losing sight of the best interests of the children involved. Finally, it found that there were no other concerns aside from those that were financial or material and thus support should be extended to the family to allow them to live together. 

Most significantly we feel, it found that the list of concerns or claims that the Local Authority had about the mother should have been properly put to her and that she should have had a proper opportunity to respond to their concerns and provide further evidence and / or explanation.

In turn, the Local Authority was found to have acted unlawfully and failed to safeguard the welfare of the children and thus failed its statutory duty under the Children Act.

We are particularly interested in the area that found that the mother in this case should have been given the opportunity to properly explain and evidence to the contrary the concerns that the Local Authority had. In this and several other cases we are working at the moment, too often parents are not given adequate opportunities to challenge judgements formed by workers when making NRPF assessment decisions. 

It is crucial that when assessment is taking place, that ample opportunity is given to parents to be able to report their situation accurately and that an appreciation of the complex nature of destitution, unstable accommodation and homelessness is taken when considering responses and impressions made about parents and families. 

We are very pleased to see this family get the justice they deserve and would like to congratulate the incredible hard work of Doughty Street Chambers, Morrisson Spowart Solicitors and Project 17 whom we worked with during this case. 

Another legal commentary on the Local Government Lawyer blog can be found here.