12 Apr High Court rules Barking and Dagenham’s Child in Need assessments unlawful
On 24 March 2017 the High Court ruled that the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham had acted irrationally and unlawfully on four separate occasions in concluding that three destitute children aged ten, six and three, were not in need.
MG & Co acted for the Claimants, a Nigerian family of five who had been left homeless when Barking and Dagenham’s No Recourse to Public Funds team terminated their accommodation. Since the end of January the family had been unable to properly meet even the most basic of essential living needs, including the need for food and shelter. They were on occasion street homeless and had to seek sanctuary at a police station and hospital.
The family pleaded with the local authority to reinstate support and provided a huge amount of information evidencing their destitution. Following a reassessment on 27 January 2017, the local authority produced two separate reports maintaining the refusal to help. The concerns raised by the children’s school, the Red Cross and Hackney Migrant Centre fell on deaf ears. Even after receiving referrals from the police and hospital that the family had presented as homeless Barking and Dagenham took no action.
Following receipt of the pre-action protocol letter, and two days before the final judicial review hearing, Barking and Dagenham produced two further review reports maintaining the children were not in need.
The family challenged the lawfulness of all four decisions.
On 24 March 2017 Ms Justice Leigh-Ann Mulcahey QC found that all four assessments were procedurally unfair and the conclusions of the local authority were irrational and unlawful. Mrs Justice Mulcahey commented that the claimants had gone to great lengths to evidence their destitution. Despite this, she found that the Council had not diligently considered the evidence given to them and had not approached each assessment with a fair and open mind.
All four decisions were quashed and Barking and Dagenham were ordered to provide suitable accommodation and support to the family whilst they undertook an assessment of need.
Clare Jennings, Solicitor for the family said “my clients have suffered enormously as a result of Barking and Dagenham’s failure to conduct lawful child-in-need assessments. They were left without a roof over their head and not enough money for food and other essentials. No child should be left homeless and have to experience what these children have suffered. I hope that Barking and Dagenham will now reflect upon this judgment and what went wrong in this case, to ensure that lessons are learned and the same mistakes are not repeated”.
The Claimants were represented by Clare Jennings of Matthew Gold & Co Ltd Solicitors and Azeem Suterwalla of Monckton Chambers.