The government is to use its powers to temporarily force local authorities to share the responsibility for looking after unaccompanied children who seek asylum, rather than relying on them to voluntarily take their turn in accepting children into their care.
The National Transfer Scheme has been voluntary since its introduction in July 2016, very shortly after the 2016 Immigration Act became law. Local authorities with a disproportionate number of unaccompanied children could ask for their care to be transferred to another local authority, initially in England. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales joined the scheme in 2018.
Whilst some children were transferred, many remained in placements unsuitable for them and in August 2020 Kent County Council announced it would not be prepared to look after any more children who arrive in its area, despite having a legal obligation to do so. The Refugee Council wrote to the Children’s Minister in January 2021, urging her to take action to avoid a recurrence of this position.
A change to the format of the scheme in July this year still failed to ensure enough placements were provided and the Home Office began to place them in hotels in the south of England. Some of the children placed in hotels were under 16, a practice that was criticised by Ofsted, particularly in light of the change to the law in September this year, which tightened regulation of the placements provided to children under 16.
The government have today announced that they intend to temporarily make the scheme mandatory, and that this will be kept under review.
The Refugee Council is relieved to hear that the government is taking seriously the need for more appropriate placements in local authority care for all unaccompanied children, who are desperately in need of someone to look after them and help them rebuild their lives and futures. The government must also ensure that all children arriving in the UK to seek asylum are able to get the specialist legal help and therapeutic support they will often need.
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive at the Refugee Council said:
“Children who arrive in the UK on their own seeking safety are highly vulnerable. They must receive local authority care immediately, a responsibility that must be shared equitably by all local authorities in the UK. Making it mandatory for local authorities to take part in the National Transfer Scheme should reduce delays in children getting the care and support they need which is a very welcome move.”