Local Authority Support for Age Disputed Asylum Seekers Explained
More often than not, young asylum seekers arrive in the UK without any official identity document issued by their home country.
In many instances, the young people were never issued with a passport or other ID, or have fled war and violence, so have left the vast majority of their belongings behind.
Without an official identity document, the Home Office makes its own assessment of young people’s ages, based for the most part on physical appearance and demeanour, and at times find them to be older than their claimed ages.
If there’s uncertainty surrounding a young person’s age, he or she should be referred to a Local Authority for an age assessment.
Two social workers will carry out the assessment, meet with the young person to hear his or her history and life account, and consider information from other sources, such as observations from professionals involved in working with the young person, such as foster carers and college tutors.
The social workers should also take into account other factors, such as the young person’s culture and religious practices, as well as any mental health issues from which he or she may be suffering.
Whilst the age assessment is ongoing, a Local Authority must treat that person as a child. This means that the Local Authority must provide accommodation and services suitable for a child of that young person’s claimed age.
However, if the Local Authority assesses the young person to be an adult, on the day they’re handed the age assessment decision, the Local Authority can stop providing accommodation and support.
The young person can then apply for accommodation and support for adult asylum seekers provided by the Home Office. This accommodation is usually outside of London in shared rooms with adults.
Case Study: The Queen (on the application of MG, a child by his Litigation Friend the Official Solicitor) v London Borough of Croydon, CO/1808/2018
Our Public Law Solicitors represented a client, MG, in relation to the duties owed by a Local Authority to accommodate and provide services to him after an age assessment had been completed.
In November 2017, MG arrived in the UK without any form of ID claiming to be a 17-year-old Ethiopian national. He claimed to have been tortured in his home country and subjected to torture and forced labour whilst travelling through Libya.
The Home Office didn’t accept his claimed age and assessed him as being significantly over 18 years old. The London Borough of Croydon (Croydon) carried out an age assessment and provided him with semi-independent accommodation whilst the age assessment was ongoing.
In March 2018, Croydon found MG to be an adult and required him to leave his accommodation immediately.
After the age assessment, we sent Croydon additional information in support of MG’s age, including a letter from an Ethiopian pastor and a youth case worker showing that he was telling the truth about his age. Croydon agreed to reconsider its age assessment decision but refused to re-accommodate and provide services to MG during that period.
Our Public Law Solicitors issued a claim at Court challenging The London Borough of Croydon’s refusal to treat MG as a child, including providing him with accommodation, whilst it undertook the age reconsideration.
An oral hearing for interim relief was heard before Nigel Poole QC, sitting as Deputy Judge of the High Court, on 16 May 2018. He found that a Local Authority may treat new evidence differently: at one end of the scale, it may dismiss the evidence summarily, and at the other, it may agree to carry out a full reassessment (i.e. starting from scratch with new social workers).
Mr Poole QC found that the facts in MG’s case fall between the two.
The London Borough of Croydon therefore agreed to reconsider its decision based on the new evidence, which was of central importance to MG’s credibility. It had even taken steps to make enquiries into the new evidence.
Mr Poole QC concluded that the age assessment process was ongoing and MG should therefore be treated as a child during that process. The London Borough of Croydon was ordered to take MG back into its care, and accommodate and support him as if under the Children Act 1989, pending a further decision on his age.
What Does this Mean for other Young Asylum Seekers?
Croydon finished reconsidering MG’s age two and a half months after the date of the decision. During the reconsideration process, MG was given an appropriate place to live, enrolled in college and received financial support from Croydon.
Had Mr Poole QC not made an Order in his favour, he’d most likely have shared a room with adults in accommodation provided by the Home Office. There was also a risk that he’d have been dispersed outside of London.
MG is reliant on a support network in London, including his friends and professionals who have supported him through this challenging period. And as is the case with many other young asylum seekers, he’s gone through extremely traumatic experiences and is suffering from mental health issues.
Moving him away from people who care for him and have his best interests in mind would therefore have been likely to negatively affect his mental health.
Mr Poole QC’s decision could help other young people in a similar situation to MG.
Young people often find further evidence of their age after an age assessment decision has been made by a Local Authority.
They may have built up a relationship with a teacher or case worker who is well-placed to make observations on his or her age, based on their experience of other young people. And in some instances, their family members may have been able to send them documentary evidence, such as ID, from abroad.
If a Local Authority agrees to reconsider an age assessment decision or reassess, in light of Mr Poole QC’s decision, the age assessment process is considered ongoing.
The Local Authority therefore must provide accommodation and services appropriate for a child whilst this is being carried out.
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