Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 25 Aug 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains the Council has not dealt properly with special guardianship payments for her grandson Y. The Council is not at fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains the Council (Council 1) has not dealt properly with special guardianship arrangements for her grandson Y, because it did not provide proper information about the support it would provide and it has stopped special guardianship payments for Y in February 2020.
- Mrs X says she has suffered financial hardship and distress as a result of payments being stopped.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the details of Mrs X’s complaint as well as the Council’s response. I reviewed documents sent by Mrs X and the Council.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- A special guardianship order (SGO) is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s special guardian. It is an order intended for children who cannot live with their birth parents and/or who would benefit from a legally secure placement.
- The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 say the local authority where the special guardian lives is responsible for undertaking an assessment of need and provision of any special guardianship support services. The assessment and provision of ongoing financial support remains the responsibility of the local authority who originally agreed it.
Means Test Model For Special Guardianship Financial Support
- The Department for Education (DfE) has issued a model which the Council has adopted. This says that child tax credit received for each child and child benefit for each child living in the household, excluding the child/children who are the subject of an assessment application, should be included.
The Council’s welcome pack and policy
- The Council’s Special Guardianship welcome pack says a special guardianship order lasts until someone turns 18.
- The Council’s special guardianship policy says financial support ceases to be payable if:
- The child ceases to reside with the Special Guardian; or
- The child reaches 18 years unless in continuous Full time education or training; when it may continue until the end of the course / training being undertaken; or
- The child ceases full-time education or training and commences employment or qualifies for benefits in their own right.
- Mrs X lived in Council 1. Mrs X and her husband became special guardians for Y in May 2008. Mrs X’s husband relinquished special guardianship in 2016.
- Mrs X moved to Council 2. Y lived in his mother’s rented house in a separate location in Council 1.
- Council 1 visited Mrs X and completed a SGO financial assessment in July 2019. Mrs X received Special Guardianship payments for Y.
- Y was evicted from the accommodation in August 2019. He went to live with Mrs X in Council 2. In January 2020 Council 2 took over responsibility for child protection matters in respect of Y.
- Y reached his 18th birthday in February 2020. Council 1 stopped paying SGO payments to Mrs X.
- The Council’s welcome pack and policy clearly outlines the circumstances under which special guardianship financial support will stop, as outlined in paragraph 8 above.
- The casefile shows Y said he wanted to look for a job as soon as he turned 18.
- I have seen a letter dated January 2020 in which the Council informed Mrs X that payments would stop when Y turned 18 years old. The letter asked Mrs X to provide any information that Y remained in further education. There is no evidence to show any such information was provided to the Council.
- Council 2 held a child protection case conference in January 2020, which was a case transfer from Council 1. Mrs X says she was promised financial help until Y was 19. The minutes of the meeting show Council 2 would continue to provide support through social services. There is no reference to SGO payments to Mrs X by Council 1.
- Council 1 stopped SGO payments for Y in accordance with its policy. This is not fault by Council 1.
- Council 2 is responsible for special guardian support services.
- Council 1 completed a financial assessment for Mrs X in May 2020. It took into account child tax credit income that was specified on the evidence provided by Mrs X. Council 1 stopped deducting child benefit after receiving information showing Mrs X does not receive it. Council 1 has followed the DfE’s means test model. This is not fault by Council 1.
- The Council is currently completing a new financial assessment after it has received new information from Mrs X in August 2021. The Council says it will make any necessary repayments once this new financial assessment has been completed. If Mrs X remains dissatisfied about the outcome of this new assessment, she may make a further complaint to the Council.
- I have not found fault by the Council. I have now completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman