ECPAT UK launches legal challenge against Kent County Council and the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the accommodation of unaccompanied children in Home Office hotels.

  • ECPAT UK launches legal challenge on the continued practice by the Home Office of unlawfully placing unaccompanied children in hotels
  • ECPAT UK also challenges Kent County Council’s derogation of duties towards children in need
  • With over 150 children who remain missing from these hotels and 5,570 accommodated there so far, this practice must end.

The Home Office continues to unlawfully accommodate unaccompanied children in hotels. This is despite significant media attention earlier this year, following an investigation by The Observer, revealing children have been emotionally abused by hotel staff and that of those known to have gone missing, some were subjected to human trafficking.  

ECPAT UK’s case asserts there is no legal basis for Kent County Council to derogate from their duties and obligations to children in need and that the Home Office has no authority to place them in hotels. Important statutory measures are in place under the Children Act 1989 which underpins the child welfare and child protection legal framework. This legislation ensures that children who do not have parents or other responsible adults to look after them have their needs properly identified, met and protected by local authorities.

In January over 100 charities from the children and refugee sectors wrote to the Prime Minister to express their grave concern about unaccompanied children going missing from Home Office hotels. ECPAT UK has attempted through every available means to persuade Ministers and government departments to end this unlawful practice. Despite these steps, the government continues to refuse to commit to an exit strategy and instead is attempting to legislate to give the Home Office powers to accommodate children in the Illegal Migration Bill.

For the first time in its history, ECPAT UK is taking steps to legally challenge the government and Kent County Council to uphold the rights of children. The charity has instructed the firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP who have instructed Richard Drabble KC from Landmark Chambers, Shu Shin Luh and Antonia Benfield from Doughty Street Chambers.

Figures shared by the Minister in this week’s House of Lords debate on the Illegal Migration Bill show the scale of this continuing harmful practice. 5,570 children have been accommodated in Home Office hotels so far, and the whereabouts of 154 of the more than 400 children who have gone missing are still unknown.

It has recently come to light that there is an agreement between Kent County Council, the Department for Education and the Home Office which sanctions the abdication of responsibility by Kent County Council to perform their mandatory duties to unaccompanied children. This agreement has been in place since September 2021, completely devoid of public knowledge or scrutiny.

ECPAT UK remains deeply concerned that children are being directly accommodated by the Home Office outside of local authority care and denied the statutory care and protection to which Parliament has long decided that they are entitled.

It is a matter of significant public importance that every child in the UK is treated without discrimination and can practicably access their rights regardless of their immigration status.


Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), said:

“This is a national child protection scandal that we cannot allow to continue. As a small charity concerned with the rights of some of the most vulnerable children subject to the very worst crimes, we have been left with no choice.  Children have been harmed, children are missing, and children have been exploited.”

“It is the shocking but inevitable consequence of Kent County Council abdicating their obligations with the sanction of the Home Office, which itself is operating outside of the law. It is clear the Home Office has no authority, power, or expertise to accommodate vulnerable children. It is abhorrent that instead of upholding the rights of all children, the government is seeking to legislate to seize powers under the Illegal Migration Bill. Our domestic law and our international obligations demand that children are treated without discrimination and in their best interests, regardless of who they are, where they came from or how they got here”.

“The Children Act 1989, enshrined in law by a Conservative administration with cross-party support is the bedrock of our commitment to children and we will not allow it to be dismantled.”

“Despite evidence of the significant harm suffered by many unaccompanied children, the government has opted to entrench this discriminatory practice in law leaving traumatised and separated children without the protection to which they are entitled under the Children Act 1989 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This cannot and will not be tolerated.”




Notes to editors:

  1. ECPAT UK press contact: [email protected] and 020 7607 2136
  2. Charities wrote to Ministers to highlight these concerns as early as 2021
  3. Previous ECPAT UK report from June 2022 highlighted these concerns
  4. Charities letter to the Prime Minster in January 2023
  5. Children’s charities including the NSPCC and Barnardos wrote a joint statement calling for care for every child in need under the Children Act 1989 in March 2023
  6. Recent judgement in the Family Court Division of the High Court confirms that unaccompanied children have the same rights under Children Act 1989 and that the Home Office practice does not change local authority duties towards them