Walker v Lambeth LBC (judgment 8 March 2002) (CA)

A woman and her children were homeless, and the council found the woman to have intentionally made herself so. The council declined to provide alternative assistance under the Children Act, because of the effect of Lambeth LBC ex p A (finding that there is no power to provide housing to parents, under s17, on the basis that she is responsible for a child in need). A Housing officer enquired as to the position, and concluded, without checking, that the woman had wider family who would take her and the children in. Later, a consultant engaged to act on behalf of the council advised her that the council would not help unless the family were unwilling or unable to take the woman and children in, and that she could seek assistance from social services.

The woman unsurprisingly complained in the case that the first officer had not put the question about the possibility of resorting to her family for help, to her, directly; and that there had been no proper or thorough assessment of her situation.

The court held that the woman had an arguable case in relation to the manner of the assessment. Stretched resources were not an excuse for not considering the case on its merits. Likewise the court was concerned as to the purported delegation of the council’s decision-making role to the consultant, acting ‘for’ the authority but as a self-employed consultant.

The case has therefore gone ahead to a full judicial review, but directly to the Court of Appeal, so that the ex p A decision can be reconsidered at a higher level. This may resolve the difficulty caused by that case, in relation to the needs of children who do not need to be taken into formal care, under s20 Children Act, but whose parent or parents are not entitled to housing, as homeless. It may also resolve whether housing and social services need to work more closely with each other, positively making referrals of clients not owed a duty by one agency, on to the other.

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