Protecting unaccompanied young asylum seekers whose age is disputed

Case name: R (S) v London Borough of Croydon & Anor

An unaccompanied young person arrived in the UK seeking asylum. He claimed he was under 18. His local council placed him in adult accommodation and refused to provide child-appropriate services until an age assessment had taken place. He challenged their decision, arguing that it breached his human rights.

Legal issue

Is a local authority required to treat an unaccompanied asylum seeker, who says he is a child, as a child pending a proper determination of his age?

Background

A young person arrived in the UK seeking asylum. He was unaccompanied and claimed to be under 18. The local council disputed his age and placed him in adult accommodation until an assessment of his age could take place.

They claimed the accommodation was safe and appropriate and that there was no duty to provide him with child-appropriate services until he had been assessed as a child. The boy challenged the council’s decision through the courts.

Why we were involved

In 2018, nearly 2,900 children applied for asylum having arrived in the UK alone.

Many will have experienced significant trauma and be particularly vulnerable. Our priority is to make sure that equality and human rights laws are upheld by institutions and this case was an opportunity to challenge a local authority which we were concerned had breached the Human Rights Act.

We believed that the council’s decision not to provide child-appropriate services until completion of an age assessment breached the Children’s Act and the boy’s human rights.

Our aim was to make sure that in the future, vulnerable young asylum seekers are treated as children until proven otherwise.

What we did

We intervened in the case, which is when we provide expert advice or evidence to help the court with the issues they are considering. We made clear that routinely holding a person in unsuitable adult accommodation while awaiting an age assessment was unlawful.

What happened

We intervened in the case, which is when we provide expert advice or evidence to help the court with the issues they are considering. We made clear that routinely holding a person in unsuitable adult accommodation while awaiting an age assessment was unlawful.

Who will benefit and how

This case has significant implications for councils who must now assume that any unaccompanied or trafficked young person who may be a child is one – and treat them as such.

The outcome of the case strengthens protection for unaccompanied children and we hope sends a strong message to other public bodies that they must respect equality and human rights legislation.

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