Liar liar? Fair procedure, credibility and assessments

November 11th, 2016

 

We are all left reeling from the news across the pond.  It may feel as if no one cares anymore about who is telling the truth or what is fair.  But, when all about you are losing their heads, turn to a recent decision from the Administrative Court for reassurance.  In R (S and J) v Haringey LBC [2016] EWHC 2692 (Admin), the High Court handed down useful guidance on the procedure that authorities should follow before concluding that a person lacks credibility.

The claimants were two children (by their litigation friend). Their mother was a Ghanaian national with leave to remain, but no right to claim benefits.  The family was evicted from their privately rented accommodation when their landlord wanted to sell the property.  They stayed with friends, and applied to Haringey LBC for support under Part III of the Children Act 1989.

Haringey found that the mother had sufficient resources to avoid destitution.  This conclusion was based on her failure to provide information about her income and expenditure.  However, Haringey had never asked her for this information.

The Court concluded that Haringey had not given the mother sufficient opportunity to answer its concerns before deciding that she was not credible.  It follows that authorities should take at least two steps before disbelieving a person as to their resources:

  • Concerns about credibility should be put to the person before any adverse inferences are drawn.
  • The person should be asked to provide the specific kinds of evidence that would prove their credibility. In this case, the mother should have been asked for wage slips and evidence of how she had paid her rent in the past.

It is worth noting that a number of other grounds of challenge failed. As a result, the judgment also contains some comments that will be useful to defendant local authorities.  These include dicta on the importance of reading assessments as a whole, rather than criticising paragraphs in isolation (paragraphs 58 and 63).  There is also a passage on the importance of respecting “social work judgement… against a background of diminishing available resources” (paragraph 52).

 

Hannah Slarks

Hannah.slarks@11kbw.com

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