This is yet another case involving the refusal of s.17 Children Act support on the basis that a parent, who has no recourse to public funds and who claims to be destitute, is not credible. There seem to be more and more of these around recently, certainly from Lambeth, Hackney and Lewisham social services and no doubt others. The decision here was upheld by Helen Mountfield QC sitting as a deputy; Lambeth had been entitled to find the claimant child “O” and her mother “PO” were not destitute for reasons summarised below.
So what can you do for a client faced with such a response? The local authority are the arbiters of fact, and any reasoned decision on credibility is likely to be respected. The case highlights some of the issues you'll need to bear in mind:
- Can the client explain how they have got by to date, and why any previous support is no longer available?
- What evidence is there to corroborate the client’s account – from professionals (e.g. health visitors, GP, school, charities …) or, if not, then family and friends?
- Will friends and family be ready to co-operate and respond to inquiries, and if not then why not?
- Have the authority made appropriate inquiries and given the client a chance to respond? This case at least includes some helpful comments on the need for sufficient inquiries and for fairness in the decision-making process.
- Sometimes there is a dispute about what has been said interview with social workers. Is there any advocate or support worker who might be persuaded to go along?
And what do we think about the practice of interviewing children alone, in order to check up on information provided by a parent? Is that appropriate in the absence of any safeguarding concerns? An issue to ponder perhaps…
I find that this was a reasonable inference to draw from the combination of the following: i) The fact that PO had been assisted by friends with accommodation for the past five years since O's birth; ii) O's explanation that they sometimes stayed with the E family and "uncle Michael" which was apparently inconsistent with PO's case ... iii) Michael E's failure to respond to enquiries, and Ms J's failure to respond to further enquiries ... iv) The lack of explanation for why Ms J would not continue to accommodate PO and O ... v) Lambeth's doubts as to PO's credibility in the light of her implausible initial account of why there had been ... and apparent inconsistencies in her evidence, as noted above