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A place to call home

A report into the standard of housing provided to children in need in London

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (‘section 17’ throughout this report) is a statutory provision that provides a lifeline for thousands of otherwise destitute children every year. This safety net provision ensures that children living in the UK, irrespective of their immigration status or background, have their basic needs provided for. Predominantly, the need is for accommodation but there can also be a need for financial assistance to pay for food and other essential living expenses.

Support under this provision comes from the Children’s Services of local authorities. Children’s Services are under a duty to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare’ of children within their area who are ‘in need’. The duty applies to any child, regardless of their immigration status. The support is not focussed solely on children in migrant families. However, migrant families are especially vulnerable to being destitute and having no access to any financial support or accommodation. British families will be entitled to welfare benefits and social housing and support under homelessness duties. Although the children in migrant families may be British, they cannot claim benefits on their own behalf until they are at least 16 years old.

The section 17 duty should be seen in the context of a raft of child protection legislation and guidance which has developed in the UK over the past 200 years in response to, or influenced by, the tragic deaths of children.

Housing is a key issue in child protection and poor housing and homelessness have featured in a significant number of Serious Case Reviews, undertaken when a child has died or suffered serious harm.v Evidence collected in the course of this study suggests that almost two thirds (64 per cent) of the properties provided to children in need are unsuitable and fall short of meeting the practical and emotional needs of the children and their principal carers, usually mothers. This is contrary to a local authority’s domestic and international legal obligations.