Judge declares Havering Council’s failure to aid children ‘unlawful’

Scene of the action: Royal Courts of Justice. File picture: PA Wire

Scene of the action: Royal Courts of Justice. File picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Havering Council took “shameful” steps to avoid coming to the aid of the young children of a homeless family a judge at London’s High Court said on Friday.

Mr Justice Cobb also criticised Tower Hamlets Council who he said had “washed their hands” of the couple and their two children in an “inexcusable failure of good social work practice”.

The family moved to London in November 2011. In October 2012, they approached Tower Hamlets, seeking housing.

An assessment of their needs was commenced but, in the meantime, they were put up temporarily in Havering.

The couple then found themselves at the centre of a “stand off” between the two boroughs with Tower Hamlets claiming it was no longer responsible for them as they were now living outside the borough boundary.

Each council said the other was duty bound to meet the family’s needs.

Mr Justice Cobb said: “It is unacceptable for the authorities simply to stonewall each other while attempting to offload their obligations.”

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The judge said the family had been effectively “dumped” on Havering and the lack of co-operation between the councils breached the “core aims” of child protection legislation.

“The children were pushed from pillar to post” the judge said, declaring that Havering’s failure to assess the needs of the two children “unlawful”.

Meanwhile Tower Hamlets had “breached its statutory duty” in the way it dumped the family on Havering.

Mr Justice Cobb concluded that the primary duty to assess the children’s needs fell on Havering, whilst Tower Hamlets bore the main responsibility to arrange their short-term housing.

Speaking after the ruling Lou Crisfield of Miles & Partners LLP, the law firm representing the family, said: “We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this judgment. With ‘out of borough’ placements of homeless families becoming widespread, vulnerable families were finding themselves being batted to and fro between the placing and receiving boroughs.

“We hope this judgment means our client’s appalling experience of being evicted while two local authorities argued about who was responsible will not be repeated for other families in the future.”

A Havering Council spokesman said: “We have read the judgement and noted that the judge has ruled that we should have done a full assessment on the children for social care needs when they were placed in Havering by Tower Hamlets Council.

“We will be considering the implications of the full judgement with our legal advisors.”