Short-Form Assessments of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children

16 Apr 2024 | Rahul Kanani
asylum seeker

Table of Contents

Age is just a number? Shining a light on Local Authorities’ Short-Form Assessments of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children

A recent report published in January 2024 by the Refugee Council, Human for Rights Network and Helen Bamber Foundation revealed that as a result of age determinations conducted by immigration officers of the Home Office, at least 1,300 children were incorrectly deemed to be adults following arrival into the United Kingdom (UK) over an 18-month period [January 2022 to June 2023]. To date, significant focus has been placed on the unreliable and flawed Home Office decisions which are largely based on assessing officers’ perception of a young person’s physical appearance and demeanour, in the absence of documentary evidence.

However, what flows from such decisions, where the individual subsequently comes to the attention of a local authority’s children’s services department, causes additional concern. Osbornes Law is seeing a growing trend of multiple local authorities having a system of adversely short-form assessing young asylum-seekers only to then concede that they are minors when faced with challenge and through the process of then carrying out a full age assessment. Short-form assessments are designed for obvious cases, however, Osbornes Law considers that many local authorities are abusing the process to gatekeep fundamental Children Act services, unless and until faced with challenge. For those who do not seek legal assistance or are unable to obtain representation from inundated legal aid lawyers, such adverse decisions have the following negative consequences:

Asylum Accommodation

Incorrectly accommodated alongside adult strangers in unsupported and unsupervised Home Office provision which is not appropriate or safe for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Often room sharing is required, leading minors to be exposed to risks of abuse and exploitation where there are no safeguards in place.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors are some of the most vulnerable in society, because of their age, having to flee their home country unaccompanied, making difficult journeys often subjected to significant trauma, torture and slavery, and after arrival being unable to communicate and express themselves in the English language. Rather than their welfare being promoted and safeguarded further to core Children Act principles, we have heard first-hand the profound impact of living in Home Office accommodation, not just in terms of the lack of support but also minors who suffer abuse at the hands of adults they are accommodated with. Others are controlled by their traffickers and made to work unlawfully in the UK. Many have expressed to us that they were scared, experienced internal thoughts of self-harm and suicide, and some reported that they self-harmed due to being disbelieved and placed in adult accommodation.

Moreover, if an asylum-seeking child is not properly and promptly placed into the care of social services, they may miss out on ongoing support rights post-18 under the leaving care regime, if they do not achieve a ‘looked after’ period of 13 weeks pre-18 to qualify for such support.

Meeting of Education, Health and Other Needs of Asylum Seekers

Missing out on fundamental rights such as access to education and an assessment of health and other needs.

In accordance with the Children Act 1989, children’s services teams in social services departments are responsible for supporting people under the age of 18 with accommodation, access to education, arranging medical assessments and ensuring an appropriate plan is in place to ensure the young person’s needs are met. This equally applies where the individual could be under 18, unless and until a lawful age assessment is completed finding the young person to be of adult age.

It is not controversial to recognise the importance for asylum-seeking children to receive support and assistance, with many arriving unaccompanied and having lost contact with their family. Asylum-seekers also frequently suffer from health issues including Tuberculosis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, malnutrition and scabies. In addition, access to education plays a significant role in the integration process as it enables the young person to communicate and build friendships and obtain qualifications to attain employment in the future. Time is of the essence for teenage asylum-seekers, especially as they have often received limited education in their home countries.

Asylum Application

Such a decision by the local authority may affect how a young person’s asylum claim is processed and determined, missing out on important safeguards during asylum interviews and risking the Home Office questioning the young person’s credibility.

Age-disputed unaccompanied asylum-seekers already face significant challenges in accessing legal assistance under Legal Aid caused by well-documented funding cutbacks by the Government and with the current demand exceeding the supply of lawyers with expertise in this area. Furthermore, if they wish to challenge an adverse local authority age assessment by way of judicial review, it must be commenced within three months. This means that many unaccompanied asylum-seekers experience difficulties obtaining access to justice, not to mention that a significant number of young asylum-seekers are unaware of their right to challenge such decisions of the local authority.

Local authorities, and even more so its children’s services department, should act with integrity and not in a way that effectively seeks to gatekeep (rather than protect) vulnerable claimed minor asylum-seekers, unless and until they secure legal assistance. Osbornes Law and the charities it works with will scrutinise the conduct of local authorities to hold them to account and ensure that the trend we are noting does not continue.

How we can help

At Osbornes, we are specialists in age assessment challenges and have significant experience in overturning negative age assessment decisions and issuing judicial reviews against local authorities and the Home Office. Please contact the Age Assessment team by submitting an online enquiry on the website or contacting the team on 0207 485 8811.

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