R (M) v Barking and Dagenham LBC and Westminster LBC [2002]

Summary

(Extract from Article by Andrew Sharland)

The claimant in that case was a tenant of Westminster LBC until her eviction for arrears of rent. Westminster provided her, her children and her partner with temporary accommodation within Barking and Dagenham LBC, from which they were then evicted as intentionally homeless. The question arose of which authority was responsible for assessing her children’s needs under section 17 of the Children Act. The court approved Stewart and applied the physical presence test, finding Barking and not Westminster to be responsible for assessing the children’s needs.

In that case Crane J also emphasised (at paragraph 17) the need for local authorities to take a structured approach to dealing with provision of services to children across authority boundaries:

“It is my understanding, from what all three counsel have been able to tell me in this case, that although no doubt all local authorities have attempted to co- operate where possible, no formal guidelines or structured arrangement has been adopted to assist them in cases involving s 17 where more than one authority may be involved. Such co-operation is plainly important. It is important to avoid any impression that local authorities are able to pass responsibility for a child on to another authority. I say straight away that I do not suggest that there has been any such motive in the present case, but local authorities are naturally concerned in areas where resources are short to avoid carrying out duties that are the duties of other local authorities. It is vital, particularly in cases involving children, that the needs of the children are given consideration and that, as far as possible, arguments about who considers and meets those needs do not hold up the provision of services to those children. To put it shortly, the needs should be met first and the redistribution of resources should, if necessary, take place afterwards. It is also important, quite plainly, that the parents of children should not be able to cause inconvenience or extra expense by simply moving on to another local authority, though I do not suggest that is what has happened in the present case.”

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