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Ombudsman finds council’s special guardian policy left scores of families out of pocket

More than 170 families in the north east will be receiving backdated financial support after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found problems with the way one council was paying support to special guardians.

Following a complaint from one family, the Ombudsman found North Tyneside Council had not been paying special guardians the level of financial support they were entitled to over a number of years. During the Ombudsman’s investigation, the council identified 171 families who may have not received the correct support.

Special guardians look after children who are not their own, following a court order. The Special Guardianship Order (SGO) gives children more permanence than a regular fostering arrangement, and gives their guardians more rights to make decisions on their behalf.

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

“Special guardians offer stable and secure home lives to some of the most vulnerable children in society; children who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their birth parents. They are often grandparents, siblings or relatives, doing what the rest of us would do if faced with a similar choice – so they should be given the right support to take on this important role.

“We issued a focus report covering these issues in November 2013, and I would expect all authorities to have understood their obligations at least from that date. That is why I have asked North Tyneside backdate payments from 2013.

“I welcome the council’s commitment to take action in this case: it has said it will identify all families that have been affected by its incorrect policy and ensure they receive the support they should have had.

“I now urge other councils to learn from this investigation and assess their own policies to ensure other special guardians are not left struggling for the support they are entitled.”

The Ombudsman’s investigation found North Tyneside Council had been implementing its incorrect policy since at least 2010, and had received its own legal advice that the policy did not follow guidance in 2016. But it took another 12 months to decide on a new policy.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council has agreed to implement its new policy for special guardianship allowances, and identify all existing special guardians who may be affected by the change and write to them to explain the new policy.

For the family that made the complaint, the council will calculate and backdate all special guardianship allowance payments from November 2013 for which it is eligible. It will write to them to apologise and pay £200 for the time and trouble they have been put to.

It will also identify all other special guardians affected by the fault since November 2013 and make similar backdated payments to them, calculated using the new policy.

Article date: 17 May 2018