Local authorities are failing children by providing inadequate accommodation 

10 December 2015

Report considers provision of accommodation to destitute migrant families with NRPF.

Hackney Community Law Centre and Hackney Migrant Centre have commissioned A Place to Call Home – A report into the standard of housing provided to children in need in England, which focuses on families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) who are provided with​ accommodation under section 17 Children Act 1989, primarily by London boroughsWe were pleased to be invited to speak at the launch event on 1 December 2015. ​

The report found that: 

  • 64% of properties were found to be inadequate, 74% of these being physically unsuitable, with no/limited access to cooking, heating or washing facilities, general disrepair issues and lack of adjustments to meet health needs.
  • Over half the inadequate properties were overcrowded, or lacking space,​ with inappropriate sleeping arrangements, restrictive use of communal facilities and lack of privacy.
  • More than half the families were accommodated outside of the placing authority's area. This was practice only undertaken by London boroughs.
  • Half the families were placed in B&B accommodation.
The report concludes by making a number of recommendations, including:

  • Central government to review the provision of subsistence and accommodation support under section 17 Children Act, in terms of the best interests of the child.
  • Central government to set minimum standards for accommodation provided under section 17.
  • Local government to use professional providers as letting agents who are members of ARLA (the Association of Rental Residential Letting Agents) and properties from accredited landlords when providing temporary accommodation. 
The report highlights the challenges being faced by social services in enacting local authority responsibilities to families with NRPF under section 17 Children Act 1989  in the context of funding cuts to local government and a national housing crisis, which is particularly acute in London, the main area of focus in the study. The report provides compelling evidence that housing families in poor quality accommodation, which in some instances does not comply with legal standards, is highly detrimental to the development and attainment of children, and may result in unregulated landlords receiving public money. This report therefore adds to the body of evidence that must compel politicians and the Government to ensure that safety net support for destitute migrant families can adequately protect and safeguard children.
We are aware that many local authority colleagues have identified housing as being a key area for NRPF service development and, as a result, have been working more closely with housing departments to procure temporary accommodation, as well as in partnership with voluntary sector agencies, to ensure that NRPF families are provided with good quality properties and, in some cases, with additional support. ​ 

The introduction of new legislation in the Immigration Bill, which specifically requires local authorities to support certain destitute families who have no immigration status, will provide an opportunity for clarifying responsibilities and standardising practice in this area of work. This report will help to inform our discussions with the Hom​e Office and Department for Education about specific accommodation standards and requirements when guidance and regulations are made, should the Bill be passed, and also serves to highlight that the best interests of children must be a key consideration, even when such support is provided outside of the Children Act 1989.

Any local authorities requiring further advice and guidance about models of good practice in relation to housing provision for NRPF families may contact us