Essex County Council’s failures meant that a woman who was caring for her step-granddaughter struggled financially.
The Ombudsman says that “While Councils have responsibilities to ‘children in need’, they also have responsibilities to provide proper support to those people who agree to take on the primary care and upbringing of such children.”
He welcomes the Council’s agreement to pay £7,500 compensation to the woman, plus £90 per week until she is reassessed under a new means test, when it is finalised.
‘Mrs Graham’ (not her real name for legal reasons) complains that the Council failed to tell her that funding of £90 per week, which she was receiving from the Council for looking after her step-granddaughter, ‘Juliet’ (also not her real name), would be withdrawn after she obtained a residence order from the courts. Mrs Graham considers that the Council’s policy on funding is too rigid and failed to take account of her particular circumstances.
Mrs Graham struggled to fund the nursery fees for Juliet. She felt abandoned by the Council and scared that she would not get help in the future should Juliet’s health suffer because of her mother’s excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
The Ombudsman says “I feel she was let down by the Council”. He finds fault by the Council because it:
- failed to tell Mrs Graham what the payments it made to her were for, or whether they were time limited;
- did not carry out the means test before Mrs Graham went to court for the residence order, contrary to its own policy/procedure;
- did not give Mrs Graham all the information needed about the options available to her so that she could make an informed decision about what they meant for Juliet and her future care; and
- fettered its discretion in the way it assesses means tests for residence order allowances, failing to take into account individual circumstances.
To remedy the injustice to Mrs Graham as the Ombudsman recommended, the Council has agreed to:
- review its policy/procedure in relation to residence order allowances, including a review of its means test; train all staff on the new policy/procedures;
- produce a leaflet for prospective carers advising them of possible options for a child;
- in the meantime, advise all staff that the means test for residence order allowances should be carried out before legal proceedings begin;
- and pay Mrs Graham £7,500 (£90 per week since the funding was unilaterally stopped) and continue to pay her £90 per week until she is reassessed under the new means test.