This is the area of law that deals with access to support from Local Authority Social Services or the NHS and the difficult area of dispute that can arise between the two. Since August 2014, we have been operating a Legal Aid Agency community care contract which allows us to help with obtaining assessments from social services as well as challenge decisions on the provision of services, for example, care packages, respite and day care, aids and adaptations, disabled facilities grants, accommodation and support for families with no recourse to public funds under s17 Children Act 1989 or vulnerable adults with no recourse to public funds under the new Care Act 2014.
This fits in very well with the work we have been doing to assist families and individuals in need but whose immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds. However, it also allows us to expand our reach into other areas of community care advice and we have begun to work with partner organisations to offer an advice service for vulnerable clients with physical, mental or learning disabilities, children, the elderly and victims of domestic abuse. We are working closely with Birmingham Rathbone, Midland Mencap, Age UK, Action for Blind People and Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid.
The legal aid contract brings with it the ability to fund Judicial Review which is usually the only way of challenging decisions of public bodies on community care matters. This can sometimes be the only way in which a local authority can be persuaded to carry out an assessment or provide a service to meet an assessed need.
Although we have only been operating this contract since August 2014, we have already successfully halted the closure of a day centre in Dudley for people with mental health problems and pressed local authorities throughout the midlands into performing their duty to children and families in their area with no recourse to public funds.
This case is a challenge to Sandwell Council of the suitability of the accommodation and financial support that they are providing to our client in compliance with their duty under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. The family, along with many other cases that we know of, have been accommodated in temporary hotel accommodation for over two years. They are being supported by Sandwell Social Services because their immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds and are not allowed to receive mainstream benefits or housing. We have one example of a family being accommodated in the same hotel for three years.
For perspective, if the local authority is under a duty to accommodate a family under Housing Act homelessness assistance, then they must not do so in temporary hotel accommodation unless it is an emergency and even then for an absolute maximum of six weeks. We say that accommodating children in hotels for years on end is unlawful and this has formed part of the challenge we have made In this case. There is a court hearing in December to decide if there should be a full judicial review of the suitability of Sandwell’s provision of accommodation, the level of financial support and the absence of a published policy on how the local authority deals with assessing children whose families’ have no recourse to public funds.