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24 July 2018

Documenting the impact of Section 17 refusals on children and families

Project 17 have released a report documenting the impact of Section 17 refusals on migrant children and families, who end up homeless and destitute as a result of lack of support. The report draws on Project 17’s own programme aimed at providing emergency accommodation for families denied assistance by local authorities. The report’s executive summary reads:
Destitute migrant families with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (no access to mainstream welfare benfits or social housing) face significant challenges to accessing statutory support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (s.17). This law should provide a vital ‘safety net’ to children whose families are not able to access mainstream homelessness support or benefits. At a time of austerity and increased hostility towards migrants, Project 17 has found that local authorities are frequently failing to meet their duties under s.17 Children Act 1989 by refusing to provide accommodation or financial support, leaving migrant children homeless or without enough money to meet essential needs.
For the past year, Project 17 has operated a ‘Hotel Fund’ as part of a project funded by the Network for Social Change, to provide emergency accommodation to families left street homeless following a refusal of s.17 support. This report recounts the experiences of the families who have benefitted from the Hotel Fund and investigates the material and psychological impact on children and families left street homeless by refusals of local authority support. We explore the difficulties faced by families seeking to challenge local authority refusals, and the costs to local authorities in defending such challenges, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds.
As part of this project, we raised our concerns regarding the risks posed to children left street homeless by five local authorities (London boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth, Greenwich and Bexley). We found that all but one of the local authorities (Bexley) refused to acknowledge that children’s safety and wellbeing had been put at risk in the cases where we provided emergency accommodation due to the lack of s.17 support.
We also raised concerns about the costs incurred to local authorities in defending legal challenges
against these refusals. Of the local authorities who responded, there was a reluctance to accept that this expenditure was problematic.
The ‘Hotel Fund’ has proved an important resource in safeguarding families left homeless by wrongful refusals of support. However, we recognise that we have only been able to assist a small proportion of families affected by these decisions. There is extensive work to be done in getting local authorities to recognise that the risks posed to children are unacceptable.
The full report is titled “In the night we didn’t know where we were going” and is available to read here.