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Credibility and Children Act support

An increasingly popular tactic for hard up local authorities trying to get out of supporting destitute families is to cry fraud at the slightest sniff of non-disclosure, ad the case of R (Antwa) v Lambeth (10 March 2016) is the latest example. In that case an interim order was discharged where Lambeth had determined that the father was still part of the family and could be supporting his children. It was suggested that the request for support was therefore fraudulent.

The case will touch a nerve for those representing families, which are increasingly being asked for great swathes of documentary evidence, in default of which they are accused of dishonesty. I am aware of at least one local authority that routinely interviews Children Act applicants with a fraud officer present and searches anyone claiming destitution. Unfortunately the (surely wrong?) case of R (MN) v Hackney [2013] EWHC 1205 has fuelled this tactic and allows local authorities to stand back and assess whether the claim of destitution is sufficiently proved.

There was always a real risk of the local authority being manipulated and the court being caught up in the manipulation via judicial review. The local authority had made an assessment of the family's circumstances and had questioned the truth of the children's need. While that assessment was said to be flawed, it had been carried out. A number of documents tended to support the proposition that the father was still part of, and supporting, the family. The court was faced with a situation where a hard-pressed local authority had conscientiously performed an investigation and assessment.