Family Carers Win Battle for Unpaid Foster Allowance Fees
An aunt and uncle caring for their two nieces are celebrating the payment of almost £30,000 from Hillingdon Council. The payment represents back dated payments of skills payments payable to the couple after the local authority discriminated against them as related carers.
With an increasing number of foster carers wanted all across the country and a fall in decisions being made for adoption, there are an increasing number of children being placed with family members.
Statistics from the government published in June 2015, show that there continues to be a drop in plans for adoption in the UK. The number of new decisions made by the Agency Decision Maker for adoption has decreased from 1,830 in 2013/2014 to just 910 in 2014/2015 which is a 50% decrease. The number of new placement orders has also continued to fall from 1,550 in 2013/2014 to 740 in 2014/2015 which is a 52% decrease.
Irrespective of where these children are placed, the issues that the children present with and therefore the challenges that their carers face, are still exactly the same regardless of whether the children are related or unrelated to the carers. These children often have attachment difficulties and poor behaviour.
I acted on behalf of an aunt and uncle in relation to fostering fees for caring for their two nieces. The children were placed in their care in September 2010 aged just 2 and 3 years old. The children had been removed from their parents care due to significant concerns over neglect and substance misuse.
The children presented as very challenging. One of the children could not maintain eye contact, she would not respond to her own name and would hide from new people. She would play on her own and was not able to explain what she wanted. The other child would throw long intense tantrums, could not sit still and was always asking for food and drink. She could not share with other children and would not listen to instructions.
When the care proceedings ended, it was decided that due to the children’s issues, the carers required substantial support from the local authority post order and therefore a final care order was granted. The clients were approved as foster carers for the children which entitled them to the fostering allowances that unrelated carers received.
London Borough of Hillingdon’s policy was to pay a standard allowance to all foster carers together with additional fee payments for carers who meet a certain criteria. Although my clients met the criteria, they were told that they were not entitled to receive the fee elements because they are related to the children.
In the case of London Borough of Tower Hamlets v The Queen (On the application of X) , the Court of Appeal confirmed the decision made by Males J in the Administrative Court that the council’s policies are unlawful “to the extent that they discriminate on the grounds of a pre-existing relationship with a child between family carers.” The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal of Tower Hamlets. Family and friends carers were entitled to be considered for the fees paid to unrelated carers.
The council stood by their decision even with the threat of judicial review proceedings via a letter on 13th November 2013. There were substantial delays on the part of the local authority and the client’s case was finally progressed through the council’s complaints procedure. By 1st December 2014 the clients were sent a draft policy which did not include any information about family and friends carers.
In March 2015, the clients were finally told that the policy had been passed which meant that all kinship carers would now be entitled to the same payments as mainstream foster carers. A letter was received in June 2015 offering the clients £28,050.42 by way of back dated payments. Moving forward the clients will now receive £680.30 per week instead of £419.26 per week.
The clients commented, “Hillingdon have not treated us fairly since the day children were placed with us. Within the care proceedings they advised us to obtain a special guardianship order which was clearly not appropriate for us with the challenges we faced with the children. Thankfully we had brilliant representation to persuade the judge.
“Since then the council has continued to discriminate against us as related carers, telling us over and over that we are not entitled to additional fees because we do not do the same job as unrelated foster carers. This is rubbish! Just because we are related to the children does not mean that they are cheaper to care for or that they come with less issues. The local authority has fought this case for years all at the cost of the tax payer. If the children had been placed with stranger foster carers they would have received much higher allowances from the date the children were placed.
“We are so grateful to Ridley & Hall solicitors for fighting this battle on our behalf and hope that this will encourage family members in similar situations to come forward to fight for what they are entitled to.”
Whatever type of placement, whether it be foster care, adoption or a kinship placement with family or friends, where the children have been removed due to neglect, abuse, violence or other, the likelihood that support will be needed to maintain the placement is very high. Lack of support only promotes placement breakdowns and this leads to even more severely damaged children. Family and friends carers should not be discriminated against merely because they are related.
Please contact Ridley & Hall’s expert Kinship Care team on 01484 538421 if you require legal advice about family and friend carers.