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Local authorities: vicarious liability for the wrongful acts of foster carers

Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council
Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has today decided by a majority of 4-1 that a local authority can be held vicariously liable for abuse of a child committed by foster parents whilst in their care


The Supreme Court has today decided by a majority of 4-1 that a local authority can be held vicariously liable for abuse of a child by their foster parents.

In the summary read out by Lord Reed, he stated that a closer involvement than that between a local authority and foster parents was not required for the local authority to be vicariously  liable for abuse by a foster parent i.e. that the connection was close enough.  He also cited the following relevant characteristics of this relationship:

  • A council recruits and trains foster parents; social workers regularly visit foster parents, involve them in decisions and monitor them; a council can remove children from their care at any time;
  • A council retains parental power;
  • A council pays an allowance and provides equipment to foster parents;
  • Foster parents undertake an activity on behalf of a council, are an integral part of that council's activities and the council exercises a degree of control.

This decision renders local authorities liable for abuse committed by foster parents even where there has been no negligence or shortcoming of any sort on the part of the local authority - in the same way that they are already liable for abuse perpetrated by employees. The consequences will be far reaching, not only in terms of exposure to wider liabilities but also in terms of increasing vetting and monitoring requirements and the possible discouragement or reduction of fostering.  

The Supreme Court has declined unanimously to extend the scope of, or introduce a no fault element into the non–delegable duty doctrine. 

We are in the process of analysing the judgments and will be reporting in more detail shortly.



For further information please contact  David Weir, Director, on +44 (0)20 7645 4185

By David Weir

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.