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Grandmother to receive backdated foster care allowance from London borough

Ombudsman reminds councils of their duties to friends and family foster carers

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is reminding councils of their duties towards friends and family foster carers after its investigation into the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

Greenwich council has agreed to pay a grandmother four years of backdated foster carer payments, after the Ombudsman found it failed to make her aware she may be entitled to financial assistance for looking after her grandson. The council also failed to carry out a financial assessment when she asked it for help.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

"When they are involved in making care arrangements, councils must give families clear information about the help available to them and who will be financially responsible for the child.

"Greenwich council missed numerous opportunities to help this grandmother and, when it did realise its duty towards her and her grandson, decided not to backdate the support she was due. This must have had a significant impact on the boy's welfare.

"I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations and hope the changes it has made will ensure other foster carers in the borough are not impacted in this way.

"We issued a report into councils' duties towards friends and family foster carers in 2013, and this case serves as a timely reminder of the effects on vulnerable families when councils get things wrong."

The boy's grandmother became his primary carer following council concerns about his mother's ability to look after him. The council said it would start care proceedings if she did not take on parental responsibility for the boy, but it failed to tell her about the financial assistance that might be available, despite her repeated requests for financial help over the next few years.

These calls for help included telling the council she had no carpets or furniture, was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, couldn't afford heating over the winter and had got into debt through borrowing. She told the council she could not understand why it would not help her.

The council eventually assessed the grandmother's circumstances and agreed to pay her an allowance of £126 a week, backdated to the date of the assessment. This still left a four-year gap in which she should have received support.

The grandmother complained to the Ombudsman after her requests to the council to backdate the support were declined.

The Ombudsman's investigation found the council should have carried out a financial assessment when it asked her to take on responsibility for the boy, but instead offered her no advice or assistance. It also missed numerous opportunities between 2011 and 2015 to carry out assessments.

In this case, Greenwich council has agreed to apologise to the grandmother, pay her as if she had been a friends and family foster carer from March 2011 to December 2015 and pay her £500 for the frustration it caused by not carrying out a financial assessment sooner.

It will also, in future, ensure all parties are made aware of the nature of any foster care arrangement and where they may be able to obtain financial support.

A Royal Borough of Greenwich spokesperson said:

"The Council has accepted the findings of the report and is implementing the recommendations of the Local Government Ombudsman. The report acknowledged that the case is historical and improvements that have been made since, including that Children's Services are now rated 'Good' by Ofsted. It was also acknowledged that the Council correctly interpreted the law on backdating payments but the Ombudsman decided to rule in favour of the complainant. The Council has accepted this position, has apologised and awarded compensation."

To access the report, click here.

17/9/17 (supplemented by comment from Royal Borough of Greenwich - 18/9/17)