Age Disputes

The Age Disputes Project is a specialised post working with young people who have been age disputed by either the Home Office or by local authorities. It involves one-on-one work with young people and the operation of a case-work service.

What we do - If the child is detained

Receiving a referral:

There are several ways in which we are informed about a possible
child in detention.

Charities such as Detention Action, IMB, the Red Cross etc, who
make regular visits to immigration removal centres, may inform us that they have seen someone in the detention centre who looks under or who is claiming to be under 18. Solicitors, foster families, local authority children’s services as well as friends of the detainee may also alert us to a child in detention.

The Home Office will only make a referral to us if they think the
detainee may be a child. The Home Office do not refer detainees who claim to be children if they believe them to be an adult. The Home Office do not usually directly state that they have concerns over the detainee’s age. They may state that if the detainee has had an age assessment that may not be Merton compliant, meaning that whoever carried out the age assessment did not follow the correct legal procedure.

Please follow the below link to access the Home Office’s policy on age dispute referral and others. 

Read the Home Office Policy on Age Disputes

Initial contact with the client:

Once we have been given the referral we will make an  appointment to visit the immigration removal centre. It is very important that we meet and talk with the client face to face, using an interpreter in their preferred language, before we agree to support them. We make sure that the client understands who the Refugee Council are and what our specific role is within the organisation. We do not support everyone that we go to see, as we can only support those whom we believe to be children and whom we believe we can help.

On the first visit we try to ascertain basic information about the client and spend time talking to him or her before we decide if we can support them. It is very difficult to determine someone’s age from their physical appearance, particularly when they are in detention ( R v Merton LBS{2003}EWHC 1689).   Except in clear cases, age cannot be determined solely from appearance. Many of our clients have received only a quick age assessment on the first day of their arrival by a Home Office official and they have then been treated as an adult ever since. When we decide to support someone it is because we believe him or her to be a child, and we are willing to challenge the authorities on their behalf.

Advocating for the client:

The way in which we support the client depends on their individual
case. Sometimes we get referrals from clients who have received a removal direction to a third country or to their country of origin, and they are due to be deported in the next day or two. In these special cases we need to involve a solicitor and a barrister in order for them to obtain a court order as soon as possible, which stops the client from being removed.

If they are not due to be deported in the immediate future then we will find a reputable and trusted welfare solicitor to represent them. Since the 15th of November the LSC has brought in a new policy that only the immigration solicitors firms which have been given contracts to work with specific detention centres i.e. the 615 detainees currently in Harmondsworth detention centre are only allowed to use immigration solicitors from the three contracted firms.

When we decide to support someone as a child we then write a
support letter explaining why we have concerns about the client being a child. We comment on their appearance and their demeanour, and on any history we can ascertain, to support their age and most of the time our letters have been taken into consideration by local authority children’s services and by the courts.

Throughout our contact with the client, as well as taking care of
their legal requirements, we are also there to look out for their emotional and physical well being. By listening to their problems we can decide on the best action to take according to their needs. We will arrange for them to see doctors or specialists, if they need them, as well as get in touch with family back home and relatives or friends in the UK if they wish.

Our Goal:

Our first priority is to make sure that they receive a Merton
compliant age assessment from the new local connection authority, as so far, all the age disputed clients that we referred to the new children’s services local connection authority have been accepted as children.

Depending of the nature of the case we sometimes use independent social workers to do an age assessment, or they may have documents from their country of origin to prove their age, which have not been taken into consideration. Our aim is to make sure that the client has been given a fair assessment.

After their release:

After they have been released, we help them to get a legal
representative to assist them with their asylum application and we will also accompany them to their legal appointments. It is important to make sure all of their needs are taken care of. Being in detention is a traumatic experience for a child and we always make sure their emotional and physical health is always a priority.