Liverpool 'child asylum seekers' found to be adults
Twenty-four asylum seekers who claimed they were children after being sent to Liverpool were found to be adults, the city's council has said.
The authority said another 15 asylum seekers "should have been identified as children" by the government and accommodated in London instead.
A Home Office spokesman said age-disputed cases remain "a very challenging area".
Liverpool City Council wants to recover £657,000 for supporting the children.
A council document said 39 asylum seekers sent to Liverpool by the Home Office in 2018 "have then claimed they were children".
The authority "had to pay for an 'age assessment' for each one (costing £1,500 each) that concluded that 15 were children and 24 were adults".
Support for children includes more benefits and educational provision, "which they cannot access if they are an adult seeking asylum", according to the document.
"The 15 children should not have been sent by the Home Office to Liverpool," it continued, "they should have been identified as children by the Home Office and therefore received support from a local social services (such as in Croydon) and not be a cost to Liverpool City Council".
As they had been assessed as children in Liverpool, the council was obliged to support them - the costs of which are "approximately £657,000 per year".
It said it "should be able to recover the costs associated with the children who should never have been sent to Liverpool".
The document also highlighted:
- the council has been "threatened" with judicial reviews from legal advisers for some of the asylum seekers found to be adults
- it was providing them with accommodation at a cost of "approximately £350,000 per year" to avoid legal costs
- it has decided to fund legal advice to challenge the next six cases "where the young person is assessed as an adult and a judicial review is threatened by the asylum seeker's legal adviser"
- the council has asked the Home Office to fund independent age assessments earlier in the process
A Home Office spokesman said "safeguarding children" was a priority, adding "age-disputed cases remain a very challenging area of work in which no single assessment technique, or combination of techniques, is likely to determine an individual's age with precision".
"The Home Office will treat someone claiming to be a child as an adult where their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18."
He added that funding for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children was under review.
'Threat of court'
David Simmonds, deputy chairman for the Local Government Association, said the issue was spread nationwide.
"The process at the border is pretty weak because there is no definitive way of checking age.
"Lawyers know a judicial review will cost a council between £20,000 and £60,000 and use the threat of court to get their client what they want.
"Fair play to Liverpool for trying to stand up to it. But win or lose, the taxpayer always loses out."