High Court confirms that the use of hotels to house unaccompanied children is unlawful

The final judgment has been given in a case brought by ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) against Kent County Council (‘Kent CC’) and the Home Office, challenging the use of hotels to house unaccompanied children who have claimed asylum. In September 2021 Kent CC agreed a protocol with the Home Office setting out how Kent CC was to deal with unaccompanied children. The ‘Kent Protocol’ capped the number of children for whom Kent CC would accept responsibility, and children beyond that number were routinely accommodated in hotels, outside the care system. This “placed at serious risk of harm a large number of vulnerable children”, in the words of Mr Justice Chamberlain.

Kent CC had issued what it calls ‘section 11’ notices when it refused to accommodate a child. The High Court has confirmed that these ‘section 11’ notices are unlawful, and that a local authority has a duty to accommodate and look after an unaccompanied child in their area as soon as they become aware of them, in accordance with section 20 of the Children Act 1989. It further confirms that the duty under section 20 is absolute, and applies regardless of the resources of the local authority.

This is the last of a series of judgements. Earlier decisions quashed the Kent Protocol in its entirety; found the procedure for the transfer of responsibility for unaccompanied children from one local authority to another under the National Transfer Scheme at that time to be partly unlawful; and required the Home Secretary to take all possible steps to transfer the children in hotels into local authority by 22 September 2023 (or within 5 working days).

We congratulate ECPAT on their tireless work to ensure that vulnerable children, newly arrived in the UK without parents or guardians, are properly cared for.