Update on Age Assessments

April 2023

The government has established the National Age Assessment Board to strengthen age assessments of small boat arrivals and make decisions more consistent and robust.

Age Assessments

Age Assessments are presently undertaken by local authority social workers. They are required if there is a dispute as to whether the person presenting to children services is a child or an adult.

Age assessments are controversial but equally necessary from a safeguarding point of view in protecting the presenting child, other children and any potential carers.

The government statistics show that between 2016 and December 2022, there were 7,900 asylum cases where age was disputed and subsequently resolved, of which half (49% – 3,833 people) were later found to be adults.

“It’s a sad fact that there have been cases of asylum-seeking adults pretending to be children to try and game the system, which presents a serious safeguarding risk.

“It is vital we use every tool at our disposal to weed out people falsely claiming to be children so we can prevent abuse of our services and protect children in the UK.

Robert Jenrick, Immigration Minister

Lawful Age Assessment

For an age assessment to be lawful, it must be a “Merton” compliant age assessment.

A Merton compliant age assessment comes from the guidance set out in the High Court case of  R (B) v Merton [2003] EWHC 1689 (Admin). The judgement helpfully sets out guidance on criteria to consider when undertaking a lawful age assessment of an unaccompanied asylum seeker who is presenting as a minor without documentary evidence to prove their age or where the documentary evidence is disputed. assessment

A helpful practice guidance offering practical advice is available on the ADCS’ website, which is a useful tool to assist social workers in undertaking age assessment. The guidance and other helpful information are available at https://adcs.org.uk/safeguarding/article/age-assessment-information-sharing-for-unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-childre

Read our previous blog on what an age assessment should consider.

What is new:

With the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, a new agency, established on 31 March 2023, the National Age Assessment Board (NAAB), will form part of the Home Office and will also be responsible for undertaking age assessments.

NAAB, will commence age assessments initially in London and the West Midlands. The plan is to expand its services to the rest of the country once NAAB is fully staffed with a complement of 40 specialist social workers. The aim is that these social workers will support local authorities and the Home Office in resolving age disputes by conducting age assessments.  It will do this by:

  • setting national standards for age assessments, 
  • acting as a centralised and dedicated team providing expert advice and training to local authorities. 
  • oversee a new system for age assessing unaccompanied asylum seekers  
  • review local authority assessments and 
  • carry out its own in some situations, 

All with the aim of ensuring robust and consistent age assessments are undertaken.

NAAB will undertake assessments either through direct referral from local authorities or where the home secretary doubts the local authority’s conclusion as to a young person’s age, with NAAB’s conclusion being final.

NAAB social workers will carry out Merton-compliant age assessments. They will also start using scientific methods further to approval, such as x-rays of wisdom teeth, hand and wrist bones, and MRI scans of the knee and collar bones.

The Home Office has published guidance on the operation of the NAAB

NAAB is not supported by

Children’s rights, refugee and social work organisations, including the BASW (British Association of Social Workers), warn that these changes will put children at risk by being misidentified as adults and it will undermine social workers’ expertise.

BASW is discouraging social workers from applying for a post within the NAAB due to the risk of political priorities intruding on professional objectivity, 

 the BASW Chief Executive, Ruth Allen has stated that:

“the Home Office directly employing social workers to carry out age assessments of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is a risk to professional objectivity and could compromise the judgment of social workers.”

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