High Court to determine the lawfulness of the Home Office’s policy on age assessments at Kent Intake

The High Court has today granted permission to two unaccompanied asylum-seeking putative children who were the subject of short-form age assessments at Kent Intake Unit (KIU) finding them to be adults.  The age assessments were then relied upon by Coventry City Council to refuse the provision of Children Act 1989 support and accommodation. 

The judicial review challenges the Home Office’s reliance upon the KIU assessments to dispute the Claimants’ ages for the purpose of their asylum claim on the basis that they are not lawful or Merton compliant assessments, in addition to challenging the lawfulness of the policy governing age assessment at KIU and the fact that both Claimants were unlawfully detained at KIU.  The claim further challenges Coventry City Council’s failure to provide support and accommodation to the Claimants as in breach of duties under the Children Act 1989 and on the basis that Coventry acted unreasonably in relying on the KIU assessments without making reasonable enquiries to determine age for itself.

Since September 2020, the Home Office implemented a policy (Kent Intake Unit Social Worker Guidance) whereby asylum-seekers claiming to be children at KIU are age assessed by social workers employed by the Home Office.  This is a significant departure from the practice of referring those claiming to be children for a local authority age assessment.

By conducting short form age assessments, often lasting no more than 30 minutes, the embedded KIU social workers have disputed the age of many putative children finding them to be younger than the age of 25 years old which under the Home Office’s Assessing Age policy, is the threshold age under which a full Merton compliant local authority assessment is required.  The KIU policy therefore introduces a new route under which the Home Office disputes the age of putative children contrary to the Assessing Age policy.  

The KIU assessments are conducted without the procedural safeguards required in Merton and the case law that follows and do not take account of the margin of error in short-form assessments which was confirmed in the case of BF (Eritrea) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWCA Civ 872 and are therefore arguably unlawful.  Although the KIU assessments do not purport to be full Merton compliant age assessments, the Home Office has been relying upon them as such to dispute age for the purpose of a person’s asylum claim which has significant consequences for the determination of their claim and places the person at risk of detention.  Local authorities, such as Coventry City Council in the linked cases, have relied upon the KIU assessments to refuse Children Act 1989 support and accommodation and to refuse to conduct an age assessment for themselves.

Both of the Claimants in the linked cases were granted urgent interim relief requiring Coventry City Council to accommodate them in accordance with their claimed ages.  The linked cases will be heard together over 2 days on a date to be fixed.

Antonia Benfield is instructed by Martin Bridger of Instalaw Solicitors on behalf of both Claimants with the Refugee Council acting as litigation friend.