The Home Office must take all possible steps to transfer all unaccompanied children seeking asylum currently in Home Office hotels to local authority care by 22 September 2023, Mr Justice Chamberlain has ordered. The order follows a further High Court hearing in the case of ECPAT UK v Kent County Council and Secretary of State For The Home Department [2023] EWHC 1953 (Admin) Case held on 15 September. The judge also ordered that if children are placed in a hotel after 22 September, the Home Office must take all steps to transfer them within 5 working days into care.

It was confirmed at the hearing that the government has proposed to give Kent County Council £9.75 million immediate cash injection to support its discharge of Children Act 1989 duties and that a sustainable plan and funding model is to be agreed as soon as possible.

At the hearing, the Home Office said that there were 106 children being accommodated in hotels in Kent at that point - of which 83 were under 16 and the youngest child 13 years old. The Home Office confirmed that since the 18 August, 2 children have gone missing.

The judge has also granted East Sussex County Council leave to join the claims as an interested party.

Martin Westgate KC, for ECPAT UK, said in the hearing that unaccompanied children seeking asylum “have continued to be accommodated in hotels in numbers that have barely changed since the last hearing”.

“It is a cause for particular concern that a significant majority of them are under 16 and this appears to be a deterioration from the previous position,” he added.

Another hearing will be held to determine further relief following the decision in the claim made by Kent County Council against the Home Office concerning its operation of the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) which is to be held on 10 October. ECPAT UK is not a party to, and therefore did not seek permission from the judge to make submissions in, that claim.   

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

“It is well over two years since this unlawful practice began, a practice that has denied thousands of children protection and care and left them vulnerable to exploitation, with many going missing. As the judgement and the court order makes clear, this practice must end and children’s rights and welfare under the Children Act 1989 must be respected. It is concerning that continued court oversight is necessary to ensure that it does, but it is clear that it has prompted a change and we hope that continues so that the differential treatment of children arriving here with no parent or carer ends, as the law demands.”

ECPAT UK is represented by Martin Westgate KC, Shu Shin Luh and Antonia Benfield of Doughty Street Chambers and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP.

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. High Court judgement in the case: ECPAT UK v Kent County Council and Secretary of State For The Home Department [2023] EWHC 1953 (Admin) Case