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Stoke-on-Trent City Council (16 013 821)

Category : Children's care services > Fostering

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 19 Feb 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the Council’s failure to record the reasons for its decision not to pay Ms M Special Guardianship Order Allowance is fault. There is no fault in the decision itself. The Council carried out a financial assessment and complied with its policy and relevant Regulations. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

The complaint

  1. Ms M complains the Council has refused to pay Special Guardianship Order Allowance for her son, B.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • Information provided by Ms M;
    • Information provided by the Council, including its Special Guardianship Order Allowance policy and Ms M’s financial assessment; and
    • the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005.
  2. I invited Ms M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Ms M was a foster carer and fostered B for the Council.
  2. Ms M wanted to care for B for the long-term. She applied to Court and the Court granted her a Special Guardianship Order in December 2014.
  3. Ms M asked the Council to pay Special Guardianship Order Allowance. The Council refused her request in January 2015 and again in July 2017.
  4. Unhappy with the Council’s decision, Ms M complained to the Ombudsman.

Special Guardianship Order Allowance

  1. A Special Guardianship Order is a court order that gives a carer parental responsibility for a child. Special Guardians share parental responsibility with the child’s parents, but they can exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others. If the child was in care, the child is no longer looked after by the Council once the order is made.
  2. Councils can provide financial support if they consider it is necessary to ensure a Special Guardian can look after a child. The Council must carry out an assessment to determine whether financial support is necessary. The assessment must take account of the child’s needs and the family’s financial resources, including benefits and outgoings.

Ms M’s application for Special Guardianship Order Allowance

  1. Ms M asked the Council for financial support when the Court granted the Special Guardianship Order in December 2014. The Council’s Permanency Panel considered her request in January 2015. The Panel refused Ms M’s request. The Council wrote to Ms M to say her application was unsuccessful. The Council’s letter did not give any reasons for the decision. In response to my enquiries, the Council explained that it did not take minutes of the Panel’s deliberations. The Council says Ms M’s request was declined because there was no evidence B had any additional needs that required additional financial support.
  2. In December 2016, Ms M complained to the Ombudsman about the Council’s refusal to provide financial support. We asked the Council to consider her request again. The Council conducted a financial assessment and the Permanency Panel considered her request in July 2017. The Council refused to provide Special Guardianship Order Allowance. The Council did not take minutes of the Panel meeting and did not send a decision letter.

Consideration

  1. The Council’s failure to take minutes of the deliberations of the Permanency Panels that considered Ms M’s requests for Special Guardianship Order Allowance, and its failure to give reasons for its decisions to refuse Ms M’s requests are fault. These faults have caused Ms M injustice: she had no way of knowing whether the Council had considered her request properly. She has been put to the additional time and trouble of complaining to the Ombudsman in order to find out whether the Council made its decision properly.
  2. However, having seen Ms M’s financial assessment, I am satisfied the Council properly considered Ms M’s circumstances in 2017 and there is no fault in its decision not to pay Ms M Special Guardianship Order Allowance. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

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Agreed action

  1. When responding to my enquiries, the Council recognised that its failure to take minutes at Panel meetings was a shortcoming and explained that it intended to take minutes at future meetings. I welcome the Council’s actions and undertaking.
  2. The Council has agreed to apologise to Ms M for its failure to provide her with a formal decision recording the reasons the Council has decided not to pay Special Guardianship Order Allowance. I consider this a satisfactory outcome.

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Final decision

  1. The Council accepted my recommendation to apologise to Ms M for its failure to provide her with a formal decision recording the reasons the Council has decided not to pay Special Guardianship Order Allowance. I consider this a satisfactory outcome, so I have ended my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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