Section 20 Agreements & Accommodation

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 29th January 2024

A child or young person can be cared for by the local authority if those with parental responsibility agree to it. This makes the child a ‘looked after’ child under a Section 20 arrangement. 

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A Section 20 agreement can be a temporary solution while waiting for care proceedings, but it shouldn’t be used as a way to start long-term care proceedings when there are serious concerns about harm to the child.

More commonly, Section 20 is often used for positive situations to support families (such as through short-term breaks), or when parents can’t care for children and there are no agreed alternative family or friends. 

What is a Section 20 agreement? 

A Section 20 agreement is when the local authority asks for a parent's consent for their child to stay somewhere else, like foster care or with family or friends.

It’s important to know that a Section 20 agreement is not a court order. 

What is Section 20 accommodation?

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 requires children’s services to provide a place to stay for certain children who need it. It is used when children can’t live with their parents for various reasons, however, it’s not intended as a long-term solution. 

Children’s services must provide accommodation under Section 20 if no one has parental responsibility for the child, they are lost or abandoned, or their current caregiver can’t continue providing suitable care and housing. 

Depending on the circumstances a child may be placed with: 

  • Extended family or a family friend; 

  • With a foster family; 

  • Other looked after children in residential care. 

What does the local authority consider before accommodating a child under Section 20?

Before accommodating a child under Section 20 agreement, the local authority should consider: 

  • Who is making the request; 

  • If the child is in need; 

  • If they are in the local area; 

  • The reasons for needing accommodation; 

  • The child’s feelings;

  • If anyone with parental responsibility objects. 

If the child is over 16, their opinions are also considered.

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 allows the local authority to take care of a child in certain situations, even without parental consent. However, while not legally required, it's considered good practice to get parental consent.

For consent to be valid, parents should understand, remember, and consider the information provided. If there's any doubt about their understanding, further attempts to get consent should be avoided. What's more, being capable of agreeing to accommodation doesn't automatically mean being capable of agreeing to adoption.

  • The local authority should make sure parents grasp the implications and have access to legal advice from a family law solicitor.

If you don’t consent to a Section 20 agreement and the local authority doesn’t want your child to stay with you, they may: 

  1. Request a Police Protection Order; 

  2. Apply for an Emergency Protection Order; 

  3. Seek an Interim Care Order from the court. 

What are the local authorities' responsibilities to children under Section 20 agreements? 

When a child is in the care of a local authority, they must take care of the child’s well-being. This includes using available services and supporting the child’s education.

Under Section 20, the local authority doesn’t gain parental responsibility for a child, however, Children under Section 20 are considered ‘looked after,’ therefore the local authority has certain responsibilities as outlined in the Children Act 1989 and related regulations.

Before making decisions about the child, the authority should consider the opinions of the child, parents, those with parental responsibility, and others involved. This consideration should match the child’s age. 

Can parents remove a child from local authority accommodation? 

A person with parental responsibility can take their child out of accommodation provided by the local authority at any time. 

The local authority doesn’t have the power to stop them unless they believe not doing so would cause significant harm to the child. In such cases, the authority may seek an interim care order from the court.

Unless a court order is obtained, it is against the law for a local authority to stop a parent from removing a child from local authority accommodation.

A parent also has the right to change their mind about a Section 20 agreement. If they do, the local authority must return the child as soon as possible. If, however, there’s a risk of harm, they might seek an urgent court order. 

What’s more, parents or carers should be promptly made aware of any changes to a child’s circumstances while in their care.

Do parents have to pay if a young person is accommodated by children’s services? 

When a local authority cares for a child, they may ask certain people to contribute to the child’s maintenance. This includes parents if the child is under 16, and the child themselves if they’re 16 or older. However, the authority can only do this if it seems reasonable. 

Parents on specific benefits don’t have to contribute to a child’s maintenance, and contributors aren’t obligated to pay unless it’s agreed or determined by law, except when the child is under specific care arrangements made by the authority. 

Can Section 20 Arrangements be used before court proceedings? 

When a child is at risk of significant harm, the court emphasises the importance of starting care proceedings promptly. 

While section 20 can be a short-term solution, it shouldn’t cause delays. Agreements before proceedings should be followed closely, aligning with the child’s needs and avoiding delays. 

If proceedings are likely, issuing them promptly helps manage the case and ensures parents can seek timely legal advice from a family law solicitor. 

How can Lawhive help? 

If the local authority asks you to sign a Section 20 agreement for your child's care, it's crucial to seek legal advice. Understanding the agreement and making informed decisions is vital. For personalised assistance, reach out to our legal assessment team today.

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