O, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Lambeth [2016] EWHC 937

Application for judicial review made by a child challenging the London Borough of Lambeth’s assessment of her as not being a ‘child in need’ under section 17 Children Act 1989.

'O' was the claimant child, supported by her mother and litigation friend, 'PO', in this application for judicial review of the decision of the London Borough of Lambeth Council to refuse to provide her with accommodation and support. O argued that the local authority's decision was irrational and unlawful.

Helen Mountfield QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, summarised the legal framework concerning section 17 Children Act 1989 and the general duties this imposes on local authorities at paragraphs [5] to [22] of her judgment.. In particular, the Judge highlighted that whether or not a child is 'in need' is a question for the judgement and discretion of the local authority, and appropriate respect should be given to the assessments of social workers, who have a difficult job in financially straitened circumstances [17]. Further, the Judge emphasised that the local authority is entitled to draw inferences of 'non-destitution' from the combination of (a) evidence that sources of support have existed in the past and (b) lack of satisfactory or convincing explanation as to why they will cease to exist in future [20].

Having set out the relevant law, the Court considered the two grounds of challenge made by the claimant, 'O'. O argued that the local authority's assessment of her as not being in need was irrational. O was born in the UK in 2010. Her mother, PO, was a Nigerian national and an over-stayer, having entered the UK on a six month visitor visa in 2007. It was claimed they had no recourse to public funds, minimal family support and were destitute and in need.

The Local Authority disagreed. O was not in need, and even if the Court found that she was in need, the needs of the family could be met by relocating to Nigeria [31].

The Judge found in favour of the Local Authority and dismissed O's claim. The Judge found that the family did have a reasonable level of support and that PO had been dishonest in seeking to conceal her income from the local authority [45]. Additionally, O and PO had been assisted by friends with accommodation in the past. O and PO could provide no explanation as to why such support could no longer continue [49]. As such, it was a reasonable inference for the Local Authority to conclude that O was not a child in need.

Summary by Patrick Paisley  barrister, 1 Garden Court Family Law Chambers
This first appeared on the Family Law Week Site



2 thoughts on “O, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Lambeth [2016] EWHC 937”

  1. This case arguably extends the position established in MN and Hackney that a failure by a parent to given information can entitled a social worker to find that a child is not need. Based on that case the council had to show a failure to provide information requested. 

    Failure by an applicant to give sufficient information may be a proper consideration for the local authority in drawing the conclusion that the applicant is not destitute: see Leggatt J. in R(MN) v London Borough of Hackney10 at [44].

    Following this case councils appear to be entitled to find that the chid is not in need because they are not satisfied with the information which a parent does provide. This takes matters further and starts to put the onus on a parent to prove or satisfy a council that a child is in need. 

    ”an applicant parent who is seeking to persuade a local authority that they and their child are destitute or homeless, so as to trigger the local authority’s duties of consideration under section 17 Children Act 1989 is seeking a publicly funded benefit, to which they would not otherwise be entitled, which diverts those scarce funds from other Claimants. Even the process of assessment is a call on scarce public funds. It therefore behoves such an applicant to give as much information as possible to assist the decision-maker in forming a conclusion on whether or not they are destitute” [18].

    And further:

    “If the evidence is that a family has been in this country, without recourse to public funds and without destitution for a number of years, reliant on either work or the goodwill and kindness of friends and family, then the local authority is entitled and indeed rationally ought to enquire why and to what extent those other sources of support have suddenly dried up. In order to make those enquiries, the local authority needs information. If the applicant for assistance does not provide adequate contact details for family and friends who have provided assistance in the past, or cannot provide a satisfactory explanation as to why the sources of support which existed in the past have ceased to exist, the local authority may reasonably conclude that it is not satisfied that the family is homeless

  2. MN and Hackney and O and Lambeth have to be read in the light of R (S and J) v Haringey [2016] EWHC 2692 where is it was held that a decision was unlawful where the local authorities concerns about the information given by the parent had not been put to the parent so that that they might have an opportunity to address the concerns before they were put to them.


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