By Mark Smulian | 2 August 2013
Around 340 carers will have their allowances backdated after an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman discovered Liverpool City Council had been underpaying them for years.
The investigation began when a local woman, who looks after her young nephew following a domestic violence incident, complained that the council did not consider him to be a ‘looked after child’.
This meant that she missed out on payments that should have been available had she been accepted as a ‘family and friends’ foster carer, not as someone who simply provided care under a private arrangement with the child’s parents.
She later won a special guardianship order for her nephew. The council did then begin to pay the accompanying allowance, but it deducted Child Benefit despite the government recommending this should not happen when recipients also claim income support.
Ombudsman service investigators then found 340 other carers who were not receiving the national minimum fostering allowance, or were being paid for special guardianship at too low a rate.
Ombudsman executive director for investigations Nigel Ellis said: ‘It is only fair that these people, who do such a good job of giving children the chance of family life, get the benefits and allowances they rightly deserve. These allowances are not pay – they are used to clothe and feed the children being looked after.
‘I’m pleased to say that Liverpool City Council has quickly accepted it is at fault and has agreed to backdate the benefits to both the complainant and the 340 other carers affected.’
The ombudsman recommended that the original complainant receive backdated allowances of £10,912.
Liverpool has agreed to review its practice of deducting Child Benefit from those on Income Support who receive Special Guardianship Allowance.
It will backdate payment of the Special Guardianship Allowance at the same rate as its Fostering Allowance to April 2010, benefiting around 146 people. Fostering allowance will be paid at or above national minimum rates from April 2013 backdated to April 2011, affecting 194 carers.
Jane Corbett, Liverpool’s Cabinet member for children’s services, said: ‘I would like to apologise to the special guardian in this case who was not paid at the correct rate. This is something we have remedied very quickly.
‘We are clear that special guardians should be paid the correct rate and we are now carrying out an urgent review to make sure that both special guardians and foster carersare being paid appropriately.
‘I have called for an investigation to find out how this situation came about and to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
‘Despite the cost implications, balanced against the financial challenges the authority is facing, we recognise that the ombudsman’s ruling is absolutely fair.’