The operation of a scheme designed to transfer unaccompanied child asylum seekers from the care of one council to another has improved in recent months, a High Court judge says.

Mr Justice Chamberlain says that improvement, plus “impressive” collaboration between council bosses in Kent – where many migrants arrive after crossing the English Channel – and the Home Office has led to a “significant” fall in the number of lone children being accommodated in hotels.

But he has suggested that Home Office officials need to do more to eliminate the use of hotels.

Migrant court case
A sign pointing to the entrance to the Dover Immigration Removal Centre (Ian Nicholson/PA)

The judge has outlined his thoughts in the latest of a number of rulings on High Court litigation involving Kent County Council and the Home Office.

He said, in a ruling published on Tuesday, that since July there had been a “number of improvements” to the operation of the “national transfer scheme”.

“These, combined with the impressive work that has been done collaboratively by Kent County Council and the Home Secretary to increase the capacity of Kent County Council’s children’s services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, appear to have effected a significant reduction in the numbers of children being accommodated in hotels,” said the judge.

“Whether this will be sustained remains to be seen.”

But he added: “One significant failing in the past – the lack of a proper analysis of what changes are required to the national transfer scheme to eliminate the use of hotels – does not appear to have been remedied yet.”

Kent County Council bosses have taken legal action against Home Office ministers and made a number of complaints about the design and operation of the national transfer scheme.

In July, the judge had ruled that then-home secretary Suella Braverman had acted unlawfully in a number of respects – including by “systematically and routinely” accommodating lone children in hotels, outside the care system.

He had also concluded that Kent County Council had acted unlawfully by failing to accommodate and look after all lone children when notified of their arrival by the Home Office and, by ceasing to accept responsibility for some newly arriving lone children, while continuing to accept other children into its care.

In his latest ruling, the judge has dismissed the majority of complaints Kent County Council had made about the Home Office.

But he ruled that Home Office decision-making in relation to the national transfer scheme was unlawful between December 2021 and late July 2023 because “it failed to have regard to the facts” that ministers were “partly responsible” for part of Kent’s failures, and because Home Office use of hotels had become “systematic, routine and therefore unlawful”.