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England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions >> SN, PN and CN, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Enfield London Borough of Haringey  EWHC 793 (Admin) (29 March 2019)
Cite as:  EWHC 793 (Admin)
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QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
(Sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge)
| The Queen (on the Application of SN, PN and CN)
|- and -
|London Borough of Enfield
London Borough of Haringey
Mr Michael Paget (instructed by Enfield Legal Services) for the First Defendant
Mr Hilton Harrop-Griffiths
(instructed by Haringey Legal Services) for the Second Defendant
Hearing date: 6 March 2019
Crown Copyright ©
Anne Whyte QC:
The Background Facts
The Section 17 Assessment
i) "Analysis and Planning": "At this stage it is not known how the family would be affected by services being withdrawn by HIS, as SI has not provided an accurate account of her family's circumstances and so the level of support available to her family is not known. Furthermore, GN refused to engage during the assessment and so his ability to care for his children is not known"
ii) "Safety/Wellbeing Scale": "Given that the family are currently being supported by HIS with accommodation and subsistence, this prevents them from being rendered homeless and destitute. Although the level of support available to the family is not known, due to SI not being open and honest during the assessment process."
iii) "Future Safety": "Due to the inconsistencies in SI's account, I am unable to conclude that the children are in fact children in need. Uncertainty remains around contact between SI and GN and it is also not known whether the family have any support available to them" and "Given that it has not been evidenced that the family were living in Enfield when the alleged homelessness occurred, support from the Homeless and Immigration Service at Enfield Children's Services is to be terminated. Adequate notice is to be given to SI that support will end, to allow her to make alternative arrangements ie contact Haringey Children's Services where the family have an address history and continue to have links (the family's GP and childrens' school)"
iv) "Next Steps": "I am of the view that it is likely that the parents have been in contact more recent [sic] than what SI has reported. It is likely that the information provided by the children's school was a more accurate account of GN's involvement in his children's lives. However although there remains uncertainty regarding the level of involvement GN has in his children's lives, what is of more significance is that GN has reported that he is not currently in a position to contribute to his childrens' care; although he has not provided any evidence (ie proof that he is unemployed). Further attempts were made to contact GN to explore his circumstances further, however he refused to engage……The inconsistencies in SI's account of how she became homeless and her relationship with GN is questionable….As there is no evidence linking the family to an address in Enfield, it may well be the case that the family became homeless whilst living in Haringey and as such the children became children in need in the borough…..From the information gathered, I am unable to conclude that the children are children in need, as the inconsistencies in SI's account makes clear that she has not been open and honest…..furthermore it was not established that the family lived in Enfield"
v) "Managers, Please add your view of this assessment": "I have read the assessment and discussed the content with the SW and I am satisfied the family cannot evidence a connection to Enfield when they were immediately homeless nor evidence that they have ever lived in Enfield. Both parents have not been able to provide the factual evidence required around timescales for their current situation/living arrangements which are disputed by evidence from the school and their own support networks. As such it cannot be determined that the children are in need and that they are the responsibility of LBE"
vi) "Outcomes: No Further Action": "From the information gathered it was not determined that the children are children in need, as the inconsistencies in SI's account makes clear that she has not been open and honest. SI was given numerous opportunities to explain/clarify the inconsistencies, but she did not offer a plausible explanation to any of the issues raised, she simply maintained her story. Furthermore, it was not established that the family lived in Enfield, as alleged by SI. SI may wish to consider approaching Haringey Children's Services, as she is able to evidence having lived in the borough and the family continue to have links in the borough."
The Legal Framework and Principles
"(1) Every local authority shall take reasonable steps to identify the extent to which there are children in need within their area"
"(1) it shall be the general duty of every local authority (in addition to the other duties imposed on them by this Part) –
(a) To safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
(b) So far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs"
"(10) For the purposes of this Part a child shall be taken to be in need if-
(a) he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health, or development without the provision for him of services by a local authority under this Part;
(b) his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, of further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or
(c) he is disabled, and 'family', in relation to such a child, includes any person who has parental responsibility for the child and any other person with whom he has been living"
15. "The duty of a local authority pursuant to paragraph 1 of schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 is to take 'reasonable steps to identify' whether a child is in need. What those steps are is a matter for the local authority, subject to complying with public law requirements. Statutory guidance as to child in need assessments is set out in "Working Together to Safeguard Children", dated March 2015, and departure from that guidance as to assessment without reasonable explanation would be a public law failing. However, that is not the suggestion in this case.
16. The duty to make reasonable enquiry is a duty to make those enquires which are either suggested by the applicant or which no reasonable authority could fail to undertake in the circumstances.
17. Whether or not a child is 'in need' for these purposes is a question for the judgement and discretion of the local authority, and appropriate respect should be given to the judgements of social workers, who have a difficult job. In the current climate, they are making difficult decisions in financially straitened circumstances, against a background of ever greater competing demands on their ever diminishing financial resources. So where reports set out social workers' conclusions on questions of judgement of this kind, they should be construed in a practical way, with the aim of seeking to discover their true meaning (see per Lord Dyson in McDonald v Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea  UKSC 33 at ). The way they articulate those judgements should be judged as those of social care experts, and not of lawyers. Nonetheless, the decisions social workers make in such cases are of huge importance to the lives of the vulnerable children with whose interests they are concerned. So it behoves courts to satisfy themselves that there has been sufficiently diligent enquiry before those conclusions are reached, and that if they are based on rejection of the credibility of an applicant, some basis other than 'feel' has been articulated for why that is so.
18. The converse is also true. An applicant parent who is seeking to persuade a local authority that they and their child are destitute or homeless, so as to trigger the local authority's duties of consideration under section 17 Children Act 1989 is seeking a publicly funded benefit, to which they would not otherwise be entitled, which diverts those scarce funds from other Claimants. Even the process of assessment is a call on scarce public funds. It therefore behoves such an applicant to give as much information as possible to assist the decision-maker in forming a conclusion on whether or not they are destitute.
19. If the evidence is that a family has been in this country, without recourse to public funds and without destitution for a number of years, reliant on either work or the goodwill and kindness of friends and family, then the local authority is entitled and indeed rationally ought to enquire why and to what extent those other sources of support have suddenly dried up. In order to make those enquiries, the local authority needs information. If the applicant for assistance does not provide adequate contact details for family and friends who have provided assistance in the past, or cannot provide a satisfactory explanation as to why the sources of support which existed in the past have ceased to exist, the local authority may reasonably conclude that it is not satisfied that the family is homeless or destitute, so that no power to provide arises.
20. Fairness of course demands that any concerns as to this are put to the applicant so that she has a chance to make observations before any adverse inferences are drawn from gaps in the evidence, but otherwise, the local authority is entitled to draw inferences of 'non-destitution' from the combination of (a) evidence that sources of support have existed in the past and (b) lack of satisfactory or convincing explanation as to why they will cease to exist in future.
21. In other words, if sufficient enquiries have been made by the local authority and if as a result of those enquiries an applicant fails to provide information to explain a situation which prima facie appears to require some explanation, then the failure by an applicant to give sufficient information may be a proper consideration for the local authority in drawing the conclusion that the applicant is not destitute: see per Mr Justice Leggatt in R(MN) v London Borough of Hackney  EWHC 1205 (Admin) at . But that does not absolve the local authority of its duty of proper enquiry.
"Where the existence or non-existence of a fact is left to the judgment and discretion of a public body and that fact involves a broad spectrum ranging from the obvious to the debatable to the just conceivable, it is the duty of the court to leave the decision of that fact to the public body to whom Parliament has entrusted the decision making power save in a case where it is obvious that the public body, consciously or unconsciously, acting perversely."
Ground 1: Physical Presence/Connection to Enfield
i) Despite declining to conclude that the children were in need, they referred the matter to Haringey. Enfield now accepts in its Grounds of Resistance such a referral was unnecessary given the finding of a lack of need;
ii) There can be no real doubt that the family has no recourse to public funds and Enfield's investigations revealed no sources of income;
iii) Enfield placed the family's risk of becoming homeless and destitute on the MASH form as 7 out of 10.
Ground 2: Irrationality & Failure to make Adequate Enquiries
i) Despite not living with the father of her children, having no immigration status and being deemed "NRPF", SI had consistently been supported once way or another since 2010;
ii) They felt that she had provided inadequate information about that support and that there was no good reason for this;
iii) They felt that her account was inconsistent at times and that she was not honest when confronted with such inconsistencies;
iv) They also felt that her account lacked sufficient detail and was inconsistent with the accounts of other relevant individuals. When confronted with those other accounts, it was felt that she had no honest explanation for the inconsistencies. This was particularly so in relation to the information from the school and from NE;
Ground 3: Haringey