The high court has ruled that the Home Office’s practice of routinely housing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels is unlawful.
The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (Ecpat) took legal action against the government department, arguing that the arrangements were unsuitable.
Mr. Justice Chamberlain, in a ruling on Thursday, stated that the regular use of hotels for these children went beyond the intended purpose of providing emergency accommodation for short periods.
He emphasized that hotels cannot be systematically or routinely used as a substitute for local authority care.
The judge further stated that the Home Office’s provision of hotel accommodation for unaccompanied child asylum seekers exceeded the limits of its powers and was therefore unlawful.
The ruling comes after 447 children went missing from asylum hotels since April, with 154 still unaccounted for.
Ecpat’s case was heard alongside similar claims brought by Brighton and Hove city council and Kent county council.
The Home Office and the Department for Education argued that the use of hotels was lawful but only as a necessary safety net.
The judgment reaffirmed the legal duties of local authorities to protect and care for all children, regardless of their immigration status.
Kent county council was also found to be acting unlawfully by treating some unaccompanied asylum-seeking children differently due to their status.
The court also ruled that the national transfer scheme, which facilitates the placement of children in local authority care, can be enforced by the home secretary through judicial review if individual authorities fail to fulfill their responsibilities.
Patricia Durr, CEO of Ecpat UK, stated that the judgment reinforces the importance of child welfare laws, emphasizing that children should not be treated differently based on their immigration status.
The situation of vulnerable missing children remains a child protection scandal, resulting from the unlawful actions of the Home Office and Kent county council, she added.