A 62-year old Northamptonshire grandmother is celebrating a victory after a hard fought fight with Northamptonshire County Council. The grandmother had cared for her 14-year old grandson since 2014. She had been approved as a foster carer and the local authority had started paying her a fostering allowance.
In August 2015, like many kinship carers, she was sent to a local firm of solicitors for advice about applying for a special guardianship order. To her surprise the solicitors, without her consent, commenced an application for a special guardianship order.
Commenting, Nigel Priestley, senior partner at Ridley & Hall Legal Limited, Huddersfield, who is a specialist in supporting grandparent carers, said, “It is a requirement that the local authority must prepare an assessment and a support plan before a special guardianship order can be made. In this case, the local authority prepared a support plan which was going to decimate the level of financial support that she was receiving.”
“The grandmother was receiving £214 per week. Her grandson was involved in a sporting activity which meant that the grandmother was travelling 20 miles a day for which she received a travelling allowance. She took her grandson to a school that understood his needs and the local authority paid the expenses for doing so. His sporting activity meant that he was regularly involved in competitions after school and at weekends which required significant car journeys. Again, the local authority assisted in meeting the cost of these journeys because it recognised the benefit that they provided for this particular young person.”
As a foster carer, the grandmother received additional payments for birthday, Christmas and holidays.
When the grandmother received the special guardianship support plan, she was shocked. Commenting on the plan, she said, “I was being taken for a ride by the local authority. They were desperate for me to accept the special guardianship order. They wanted to stop my grandson being a ‘looked after’ child. I was left in no doubt that this was simply driven by finance.”
“I realised the importance of getting specialist legal advice. I contacted Nigel Priestley whose firm specialise in working with family and friends carers. I learnt that there is a big difference between caring for my grandson as a ‘looked after’ child and caring for him under a special guardianship order. As a ‘looked after’ child, the local authority simply had a duty to pay me an allowance and, to my surprise, I learnt that they were under a duty to assess me for payment of the fees that unrelated foster carers receive. If I accepted a special guardianship order then I would lose out on getting an additional £2,700 per year and, with more training, I will get an additional £5,000 per year. The local authority are paying roughly £110 per week on top of the fostering allowance to foster carers who have received training.”
“Without Nigel Priestley’s support I would probably be on an SGO right now. They tried to bully, threaten and blackmail me into an SGO. If I had taken the SGO that they planned then I would be at least £2,500 a year worse off. This amount would increase once I get the fostering skills payments so could be as much as £7,000 a year. Also my grandson would not get the support with leaving care and pupil premium etc.”
“The local authority wouldn’t pay me Christmas, holidays and birthday under a special guardianship allowance and I was appalled when they simply offered to put a tank of petrol in my car to cover the very large travelling expenses that I incur supporting my grandson.”
“I discovered to my horror that I really had to battle to withdraw my application for a special guardianship order. I couldn’t afford to have a solicitor come to court for me. I relied on the help of Mr Priestley to prepare some documents for me. If I hadn’t taken his advice, I am sure I would have had a special guardianship order forced on me against my wishes. Certainly, my grandson would have been much worse off.”
“I love my grandson and I took care of him because I didn’t want to see him in foster care. I wasn’t expecting in my 60’s to suddenly have the responsibility of a teenager. I was very upset that the local authority kept me in the dark about what I was entitled to. I also realise that it is not good enough simply to go to any firm of solicitors for advice on special guardianship orders. My advice to other grandparents in this situation is that it is critical to get the advice of specialists. I cannot praise Ridley & Hall enough for the support that they gave to me at a difficult time.”
Commenting, Nigel Priestley said, “It says a great deal for this grandmother’s tenacity that, despite pressure from the local authority, she stuck to her guns. She applied to court to stay as a foster carer and the judge allowed her to withdraw her application. This was a victory for common sense. However, without specialist advice, things could have worked out very badly for this grandmother.”
For legal advice relating to kinship care, please contact us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Kinship Care team.