More than 1,300 child asylum seekers have been wrongly assessed as adults by the Home Office, internal figures have revealed.
The research by the Refugee Council and two other charities found that more than half (57 per cent) of the 847 age assessments by the Home Office between January and June last year were wrong, according to documents released under Freedom of Information laws.
This came on top of 900 children wrongly assessed as being adults in 2022, resulting in them being placed in “unsafe” adult accommodation when they should have been subject to child protection measures, according to the report by the Refugee Council.
In the same period – from January 2022 to June 2023 – charities reported 832 “safeguarding episodes” where a child was found to have been sharing accommodation with an unrelated adult, putting them at risk of abuse, assault and violence.
These included one young person who was hospitalised after an assault with a knife and another who was sexually assaulted by an unknown adult with whom they were sharing a room.
They said children placed in such accommodation were more likely to become suicidal and also to “run away, either into homelessness and destitution or to unknown individuals offering them accommodation where they face high risks of exploitation and abuse, especially as these young people then disappear off the radar”.
Last year it was revealed that 200 children – many of whom had arrived in the UK on small boats without a parent or guardian – disappeared after being placed in hotels run by contractors employed by the Home Office.
The figure included 76 youngsters who had vanished from a hotel in Brighton amid fears they had been targeted by criminal gangs.
There were 15 cases where children wrongly assessed as adults were charged with immigration offences under the Nationality and Borders Act, resulting in them being held in inappropriate adult prisons.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Hidden from view, very vulnerable child refugees are being exposed to harm and abuse as a result of inaccurate Home Office decision-making. Each case is a child who is being put at risk and whose welfare is being forgotten.
“It is an alarming child protection failure and the Government must take urgent action so every child is kept safe.”
The charities called for age determination to be limited to staff with the relevant training and only treat a migrant claiming to be a child as an adult in exceptional circumstances, where there was evidence they were in their late 20s or older.
They recommended the Home Office should publish full statistics on the number of children who were subsequently found to have been wrongly assessed as adults.