Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 16:52 UK

Young 'need more than a roof'

Cared-for child
The ruling clarifies the law

Young people housed by local authorities are entitled to "more than a roof over their heads", the House of Lords has confirmed.

A ruling says councils have a duty to assess the wider needs of 16 and 17-year-olds who become homeless.

Solicitors for a 17 year old thrown out of his mother's home in Southwark, London, say it is a landmark case.

They say the judgement is a "huge step forward for children's rights" and requires councils to rethink services.

The Law Lords' judgement is a clarification of local authorities' duties towards vulnerable children coming to them following family breakdowns or because they are refugees.

At issue has been whether 16 or 17 year olds asking local authorities for accommodation should be dealt with by housing departments or children's services.

'Pass the buck'

The Law Lords ruled that councils should accommodate and support young people through their children's services rather than passing them to housing authorities.

This would usually involve the teenager being assessed for various needs - such as health and education - rather than just in terms of their housing needs.

In the ruling, Baroness Hale of Richmond said authorities could not "pass the buck" to another authority.

In the Southwark case, the Law Lords recorded that the council had assessed the 17 year old's need as being only for a home and had arranged bed and breakfast accommodation.

The teenager had been "sofa surfing" or sleeping in cars after falling out with his mother and could not continue his education, his lawyers argued.

'Step forward'

Solicitor Oliver Studdert, of Fisher Meredith solicitors, said: "The majority of 16 and 17 year olds who require accommodation have needs beyond housing.

"Some may come from homes they cannot return to because of irreconcilable differences and others have experienced violence, abuse or are unaccompanied minors seeking asylum with no support and nowhere to go.

"This judgement is a huge step forward for children's rights and requires a fundamental rethink by local authorities of the level of support they offer these vulnerable individuals."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Education and Families said: "The department notes the judgement in this case which supports our view that that local authorities should presume, in the case of any homeless child, that the child should be accommodated under the Children Act 1989 and be looked after by the local authority."

A spokeswoman for Southwark Council said: "As a borough we're very committed to looking after young people in need and this judgement means we, and many other boroughs, will need to review and in some ways change the ways in which we provide these services.

"We are reviewing in detail the judgement and its implications. At this stage it's too early to say what these implications will mean for service delivery and resources."



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