High Court to hear test case on who is a ‘family member’ for support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989

On Tuesday 28 April the High Court will hear the case of a 16 year old child who claims he cannot meet his basic living needs because Bexley Council refuse to also provide support to account for his 19 year old brother. The case will determine the extent of a local authority’s responsibility to also meet other adult family member’s needs in order to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in the family.

We represent a Nigerian family of 3 (a 16 year old child, his mother and his 19 year old brother) with no recourse to public funds supported by Bexley Council under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. The Council are providing the family with accommodation and financial support of  just £70.98 per week. This is equivalent to asylum support rates, which are set at the bare minimum to avoid destitution, for two people. It is also the amount the Council usually provides for 2 people.

Despite providing evidence to the Council that the family do not have enough money to meet their essential living needs and are going hungry, the Council have refused to increase the financial assistance. The Council argue that they are unable to use their powers under section 17(3) to provide for the child’s adult brother, because he is not the child’s parent or carer.

We represent the family in a challenge to the Council’s decision arguing that they have misdirected themselves as to their legal powers under section 17(3) and have acted irrationally by failing to take into account the third member of the family in deciding what support should be provided.

A claim for judicial review was issued in December 2019 with permission granted in February 2020 and an expedited hearing ordered for tomorrow, 28 April 2020.

Olivia Halse, solicitor for the Claimants, says: “The Council’s refusal to increase financial assistance has left a 16 year old boy and his family hungry and unable to meet their essential living needs. This is having a particularly detrimental impact on the mental and emotional well being of all three family members and is affecting the child’s performance and engagement at school. Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. It is hoped the case will provide important clarification as to a local authority’s responsibility to provide help to adult family members under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Judicial consideration of this issue is long overdue”.

The Claimants are represented by Olivia Halse of Matthew Gold & Co Solicitors and Azeem Suterwalla of Monckton Chambers.

Notes to editor

  1. Section 17(3) of the Children Act 1989 sets out the power of local authorities to provide services to a child in need or any member of his family, if it is provided with a view to safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare.
  2. Family member is defined in section 17 as any person who has parental responsibility to the child and any other person with who he has been living.
  3. For further information please contact Olivia Halse on olivia@matthewgold.co.uk or on 02084459268.