Councils have duty of care to youngsters

June 1, 2009

Vulnerable young people will be entitled to accommodation until they are 18 and support until the age of 21, or 24 if they remain in education, after a landmark ruling last week by the law lords.

Solicitors successfully argued that Southwark children’s services had failed in its duty of care towards a 17-year-old young man under the terms of the 1989 Children Act. The teenager had been evicted from his mother’s home and was effectively homeless, sofa surfing and sleeping in cars. As a result, he was unable to continue his education.

The inner London council did refer him to its housing department, which provided emergency B&B accommodation. This was deemed insufficient. As a result of the House of Lords judgment, the teenager is entitled to a full assessment of his needs, which will produce a support plan continuing until he is at least 21. It will assist him with finance, education, employment, health and the other skills to help him live independently, in addition to suitable housing.

Councils will now have to review their support to thousands of young people. In 2007/08, more than 4,000 people aged 16 and 17 were found somewhere to live under the Housing Act, often in unsuitable hostels and B&Bs, where there is no supervision at night, and children report having found needles in bathrooms and being attacked.

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