Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (20 002 218)

Category : Children's care services > Friends and family carers

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 13 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Whilst the Council was at fault for having a policy in place which was not in line with guidance, there is insufficient evidence to show that this caused Mr C an injustice. This is because, on balance, it is unlikely Mr C would have completed the necessary courses to have been eligible for carer skills payments.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall refer to as Mr C, complains that because the Council failed to recognise him as a family and friends carer in 2015, he missed out on the opportunity to complete training which would have allowed him to access additional foster carer skills payments. Mr C says this has resulted in he and the child he cares for missing out on additional support that they were entitled to.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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)
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. During my investigation I:
    • considered Mr C’s complaint, communicated with him about his complaint and considered additional information he provided; and
    • considered the relevant policies and guidance; and
    • considered information provided by the Council.
  2. I have also sent a draft version of this decision to both parties and invited their comments.

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What I found

Fostering allowance

  1. Family and friends foster carers are entitled to a fostering allowance from the start of the placement, which is intended to cover the expenses of caring for a child. This should be the same as the allowance paid to non-related foster carers.
  2. Foster carers can also receive other financial support, in addition to the allowance. However, this is not a legal requirement and Councils have discretion to design their own payment schemes for foster carers.
  3. Where an additional fee is paid, it must be based on objective criteria which do not discriminate against foster carers who have a pre-existing relationship with the child. Any variation should be related to the child’s needs, the skills of the carer or some other relevant factor that is used as a criterion for all of the council’s foster carers. (Fostering Services National Minimum Standards, 2011, 30.10; Family and Friends Care statutory guidance 2011, 4.49)
  4. The Council’s current Fostering Handbook details the training programs it has on offer to help foster carers, including friends and family carers, gain additional skills.
  5. Upon completion of courses and workbooks, carers can access additional payments at two levels, with those caring for children with significant complex needs being able to access a third level of payments.
  6. In order to be eligible for level one payments a carer is required to complete six courses.
  7. The scheme was previously not available to friends and family carers, and this was only changed in 2018.
  8. In November 2013, the Ombudsman issued a focus report “Family Values”, in which he said the following:

“A recent judgement ruled that family and friends foster carers should not be restricted to receiving the basic fostering allowance. If a non-related council foster carer would also have been entitled to receive additional allowances (for example where the child has some disability requiring additional support) those family and friends foster carers should also receive that enhanced rate”.

Background

  1. In January 2018, the Ombudsman completed an investigation into a complaint from Mr C about the support the Council provided to him, when he started looking after his ex-partner’s son, Z, in July 2015.
  2. The Ombudsman completed his investigation in January 2018 and concluded that the Council failed to recognise Mr C as Z’s family and friends foster carer.
  3. The Council subsequently agreed to pay Mr C the foster carers allowance he would have been entitled to between from July 2015 to November 2017

What happened

  1. Since the Ombudsman issued his final decision, Mr C has become aware of the Council’s skills payment scheme. He therefore asked the Council to also backdate this payment.
  2. In April 2018, the Council told Mr C that skills payments were only paid to foster carers who had undertaken its formal training programme.
  3. Mr C contacted the Council again. He asked for a copy of a calendar showing upcoming courses and requested that he be put on the next attachment course.
  4. He subsequently told the Council that he had found this information himself but had missed a recent course. He asked for a hard copy of the calendar and said he would then tell the Council which courses he wanted to do. Mr C subsequently told the Council he had received the information he requested.
  5. The Council repeated its position regarding skills payments in a letter to Mr C in September 2018, and again in March 2019, when it also sent Mr C a calendar of upcoming training courses for the year.
  6. Mr C says he has been unable to register on any of the courses due to pressures and problems in his personal life. These include him losing his job in 2017, a court hearing he had to attend in February 2019 and family medical problems in summer 2019.

Analysis

  1. Mr C feels that if he had been recognised as a family and friends carer in July 2015, he would have completed the relevant courses and would therefore be eligible for the additional fees. He therefore believes the Council should make a payment backdated to July 2015.
  2. The Council’s view is that during the period of July 2015 to November 2017, Mr C would not have been eligible for the skills payment scheme as this was not available to family and friends carers at the time.
  3. The Council says that since the Ombudsman’s previous investigation, Mr C has not applied for the training programme and therefore not completed any of the courses which he would need to complete to make him eligible for skills payments.
  4. Mr C has told the Ombudsman that the reason he has not completed any of the training due to pressures within his personal life.
  5. The Councils previous policy, that family and friends carers were not eligible for the skills payments did not appear to follow the statutory guidance, because it discriminates against carers, such as Mr C, who have a pre-existing connection to the child. This is fault, and I therefore do not agree that Mr C would not have been eligible for skills payments during that period.
  6. I do no propose to make any recommendations regarding the Council’s previous policy. This is because the policy has now been changed so it is in line with statutory guidance.
  7. In order to conclude that Mr C suffered an injustice in this case, I would need to be satisfied that, given the opportunity, he would have fulfilled the necessary requirements to qualify for the skills payments during this period.
  8. Evidence shows that Mr C has been aware of the availability of the training programme for almost three years and that the Council has provided him with copies of the course calendar, which includes information on what courses were available, when and how to book them. This information is also available on the Council’s website. However, Mr C has still not yet enrolled on any of the six courses he would need to do to complete to be eligible for skills payments.
  9. I acknowledge that Mr C did request to be placed on one of the courses in June but did not receive a response. I also acknowledge t the pressures Mr C has faced in his personal life and issues Covid-19 brings.
  10. However, I do consider that Mr C has still had the opportunity to show a commitment to the training. But has still not taken this opportunity.
  11. Therefore, I have decided that, on the balance of, it is unlikely that Mr C would have fulfilled the criteria to qualify for the payments between July 2015 and November 2017 and he has therefore not suffered an injustice.

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Final decision

  1. I have concluded my investigation with a finding of fault which did not cause an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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