This page provides information on the duties of the Local Authority to provide accommodation to children under the age of 18. It includes information of how the Local Authority will assess a child and the types of accommodation that can be provided.
What is Section 20 accommodation?
Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, children’s services must provide accommodation to certain children in need in their area. Section 20 is used to accommodate children who are unable to live with their parents. Section 20 agreements do not have a time limit however they should not be used as a long-term solution.
Children’s services has a duty to accommodate under section 20 if:
- No-one has Parental Responsibility for the young person or
- The young person is lost or abandoned or
- The person who has been caring for the young person is unable to continue to provide suitable care and accommodation.
Who has to consent to Section 20 accommodation?
The Court of Appeal has held in a 2017 case that there is no express statutory requirement for a local authority to obtain consent from a parent before applying section 20. Instead, its power to provide care is limited under section 20(7) where a parent “objects”. Therefore, a failure to obtain informed consent from the outset is not of itself a statutory breach. Section 20 (7) states the local authority cannot provide accommodation for a child if there is someone who has parental responsibility that objects. In this case, the local authority can apply for a court order or it could be that the police may remove the child in an emergency
However, in the majority of circumstances it is still recognised as good practice for children’s services to obtain written consent before placing a child under S.20 accommodation. It’s important that children’s services is clear, co-operative and sensible in the way that they approach this area of the law.
What are the duties of the local authority when the child is accommodated under section 20?
Children accommodated under S.20 are considered ‘looked after’ children. The functions of local authorities in relation to children who are ‘looked after’ by them are set out in the Children Act 1989 and associated regulations and guidance. Specifically in relation to this information page, the principle regulations is the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010. The guidance which underpins these regulations can be found here. We do have an information page on local authority duties to looked after children which provides further guidance.
It’s important to note that the local authority does not obtain parental responsibility for a child accommodated under section 20.
Can parents remove the young person from Local Authority accommodation?
Section 20 (8) Children Act 1989 states that any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority under this section. There is nothing the Local Authority can do to stop this unless it considers the young person to be at risk of significant harm if he/she is returned to the parents. If that is the case the Local Authority have the option of applying to court for an Interim Care Order.
What will the Local Authority consider before accommodating a child under Section 20?
The Local Authority will consider:
- who is making the request
- whether the child is in need
- whether the child in the Local Authority area
- whether the child needs accommodation and whether that is due to the grounds given above where a duty arises
- the child’s wishes and feelings
- whether any person with Parental Responsibility objects to the Local Authority accommodating the young person under section 20.
The Local Authority when accommodating a young person above the age of 16 must consider the young person’s views.
What are the types of accommodation the Local Authority may provide?
Family or friends
The Local Authority may place the young person with extended family or a family friend. This may be a short term solution to allow the young person to remain with known people, and to encourage reintegration into the family home.
The Local Authority may place a young person with a foster carer as part of their family. They may live alongside the foster carer’s own children, or other children who are classed as “looked after”.
This is commonly where children stay in large accommodation with several other children. The young person will be allocated a key worker who will have regular meetings with the young person, there will usually be a team to supervise the children throughout the day and night.
Will parents have to pay if a young person is accommodated by Children’s Services?
Where accommodation is provided under section 20 Children Act 1989 then Schedule 2 requires local authorities to consider whether they should recover contributions towards the child’s maintenance from any person liable to contribute.