- Purpose of the Scheme
- Eligibility for Financial Support
- Conditions of the Payment for Financial Support
- Level of Financial Support
- Duration and Review of Payments
- Frequency of Payments
- Consultation and Notification to Special Guardians
- Arrangements Across Local Authority Areas
- Notification and Appeal
Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Allowances
Effective from 01/02/2011
1. Purpose of the Scheme
The scheme is designed to enable Telford and Wrekin Council to pay financial support to the carers of children who are the subject of Special Guardianship Orders made under section 14 of the Children Act 1989 as is necessary to ensure that the special guardian can look after the child/ren who are subject to the order. This will be assessed as required and is not an automatic payment. This policy sets out the criteria for eligibility and the circumstances which may justify financial support. Such support may be in addition to other services which may be available.
2. Eligibility for Financial Support
Financial support may be paid to an individual caring for a child who is the subject of a Special Guardianship Order. The payment of financial support is at the discretion of the council and is subject to assessment of need and a financial assessment of income and expenditure.
It is not intended to remove responsibility from the birth parents to make adequate financial provision for the care and upbringing of their children.
State benefits and tax credits are available to special guardians in the same way as they are for any parent. Any financial support paid by the council is not designed to replace benefits and tax credits and any such payments will be taken into account.
The council requires special guardianship carers, where a child has not been formally Looked After to apply for funds from the child's birth parents as a weekly contribution to support the child and to apply for a range of child care support. This estimated amount will be deducted from financial assessments.
The payment of financial support is governed by the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005; The Council shall normally make payments to only:
- Children who are Looked After to enable a child who is being Looked After by the Council to be securely placed so as to enable the child to leave the care of this Council, and where financial support is assessed appropriately to achieve this; children where the assessment has concluded that the child should be Looked After and an SGO is considered a direct alternative; or
- When the payment of financial support is appropriate as a direct alternative to the need for the child to become Looked After; or
- Children who are not Looked After - where an SGO is pursued as a private matter and the Council has been asked to undertake the assessment.
Following an SGO assessment by the Council, the Council will identify to the prospective SGO carer where to seek and apply for financial support from a range of agencies. The Council will not automatically provide financial support. In exceptional circumstances related to unusual and continuing expenses due to the child's illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or the consequences of past harm, will the Council consider whether to provide a discretionary payment or resources to meet the identified needs of the child, the duration of which will be specified at the outset.
Exceptional payments - (applicable to alternative to care applicants or special circumstances private SGO's)
In exceptional circumstances (as set out above) the Special Guardianship Panel will consider applications for financial assistance for one-off or special expenditure of no more that £150 linked to specific requirements for the child by reference to the child's special needs or circumstances related to the child's health, disability, any history of Significant Harm or behavioural difficulties. If the child's need is greater and requires ongoing support consideration will be given to meeting this need through the provision of a resource as opposed to financial provision. Where this is a need each case will be assessed and recommendations made by the SGO officer to the Special Guardianship Panel for consideration.
Looked After children/alternative to care
Consideration may also be given for financial support to meet some or all of the legal costs of an application for a Special Guardianship Order where the child is Looked After or this is a direct alternative to care. Such payment may be considered only when such an application is deemed necessary to secure the best placement for the child; likely to succeed; where legal representation is deemed necessary and where the funding is not otherwise available.
Where this is a direct alternative to care, the Council will take into account the income and expenditure of the applicant/s to determine whether a contribution towards the legal costs will be required from the applicant/s.
The Council will pay a maximum of £1500 towards legal costs inclusive of VAT where it is deemed necessary to seek legal representation.
Where, through private arrangements, whether through legal proceedings or otherwise, a family make arrangements for a child to be cared for under special guardianship the Council may consider such financial support as may be required under its obligation to Children In Need in its area (Children Act s.17). Financial support will not be automatically provided, applicants will need to request a financial assessment of need. Following the assessment, the Council may choose to provide required identified assistance for support as a resource. Any request made will be means tested as this is a discretionary payment. The Council will only consider financial support under this policy where the criteria of above are met.
Looked After child/ren placed with Independent Foster Care Agencies/ Children's Homes
Children Looked After by the Council who are placed with Independent Foster Care Agencies or Children's Homes are not excluded from this Special Guardianship Financial policy. Where it has been agreed by all parties and is considered within the Child/ren's Statutory Review as a positive option to support permanency, the Council will support applications from Independent Provider Foster carers to consider Special Guardianship Orders- but will only pay financial support up to the level which it funds its own internal foster carers at the time of application and the granting of the Special Guardianship order.
The Council will not fund at the same financial rates which the Independent Fostering Agency pay the foster carer. The rates of pay will be as per the payments paid to internal Council foster carers who seek SGO applications.
The Council will support Independent Foster Carers with the same level of Legal financial support up to £1500 maximum inclusive of VAT.
3. Conditions of the Payment for Financial Support
(Where this is an alternative to care or where this is a private matter and a request for financial assistance made to the Council)
In determining the amount of any financial support to be paid, or the duration and frequency of any payments, the Council will assess the financial circumstances of the special guardian. The financial assessment process and criteria applied are determined by the financial regulations of the Council.
Financial support may not be paid to meet any needs when any state benefit or allowance is available to the carer in respect of the child who is the subject of the Special Guardianship Order.
Any periodic payments will be net of Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.
Under the provisions of Special Guardianship Orders, the birth parent(s) retain Parental Responsibility for the child and therefore, continue to have an obligation to financially support the child. It may be a requirement of the Council that the payment of Special Guardianship Order financial support be conditional on the carer making an application to the Child Support Agency or to the court for financial assistance towards the cost of caring for the child. Any financial support paid will be calculated taking into account any payment ordered or arranged following such an application.
4. Level of Financial Support
If financial support is paid in the form of periodical payments (or allowance), it will be paid according to the schedule of rates determined by the Council and which may be amended on the annual review date. The current level of financial support is linked to the Council's fostering allowance rates.
The payment will be dependent upon the age of the child and the financial circumstances of the carers and child. Carers in receipt of periodic payments from the Council may receive only a proportion of the financial support payable if their financial circumstances are assessed as being such that they do not qualify for the full rate indicated in the schedule.
The financial support payable by the Council will not include any element of remuneration for the care of the child by the special guardian unless:
- The special guardian is or has been a local authority foster parent in respect of the child; and
- An element of remuneration was included in the payments made by the Council to that person in relation to fostering the child.
If there was an element of remuneration it will cease to be payable after a two year period from making the order unless the Council consider its continuation to be necessary having regard to the exceptional needs of the child or any other exceptional circumstances.
Where the holder of an SGO is not a former foster carer no remuneration will be paid.
Where a financial assessment is requested, the Council will link payments to the child based on its foster carer rates, minus child benefit, minus contributions from the child parents, Minus Child tax credit. The Council will not cover financial costs where the prospective Special Guardian has the ability to pursue gaining funds and refuses to make such application which would legitimately otherwise provide financial support towards the child/ren. The Council Special Guardianship lead officer will provide prospective carers with information to enable them to pursue funding from the child/rens parents, benefit agencies, tax departments etc.
Applicable weekly rates based on a child/rens ages are located in Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Allowances
Effective from 01/02/2011.
5. Duration and Review of Payments
Special Guardianship Orders expire at the child's eighteenth birthday. The Council may provide financial support subject to conditions relating to the timescale within which and the purposes for which any payment of financial support is needed. SGO payments are normally agreed for a period of 2 years and are subject to annual review. Some payments may be one-off, or periodic. If periodic, the Council will set the period over which payments will be made. A payment beyond that date requires the express agreement of the Council. A request to consider payment beyond the 2 year period requires reassessment of need and reassessment of financial support. Requests should be made in writing to the responsible service delivery manager at least three months prior to the expiry date of the 2 year period. Where previous agreement has been given for a young person who is undertaking educational studies which commenced prior to their 18th Birthday and will be completed between their 18th-19th Birthday consideration will be given to extending funding as long as documentary evidence is provided of concerning the young person's attendance and ability to maintain the course requirements.
All payments agreed will be subject of annual review to determine the family's financial circumstances and the child's ability to obtain financial support through employment, state benefits or educational maintenance payments.
Financial support will be discontinued if the child/young person:
- Ceases to reside with the special guardian; or
- Ceases full time education and commences employment or qualifies for a placement on a Government training scheme; or
- Qualifies for Income Support or Job Seekers' allowance in his/her own right; or
- Reaches the age of 18 years, unless he/she remains in full time education, in which case the Council may consider providing financial support until he/she completes their current course of study. (or some earlier date) if he/she has not other means of financial support available;
- The child/ren and young persons ordinary residence changes to another local authority.
The financial support may be terminated or suspended if the financial circumstances of the special guardian or the child change and the Special Guardian/s fail to notify the Council of this change. The Council will review the payment of financial support annually, or at such shorter intervals or as the Council shall in any case determine. The special guardian will be required to supply details and evidence of all their income and outgoings, to allow a financial assessment to be made for the initial financial assessment and before each annual review. The Council shall be entitled to suspend or withdraw payments if adequate information is not provided to officers or where the information provided is misleading, or does not correspond with checks made by Council officers to verify claims values. An assessment will remain current until the outcome of the annual review. If it appears to the Council at the annual review that any such circumstances are likely to arise within the period before the next annual review, a review will be arranged at an earlier date to take into account of this.
If any financial support has been withdrawn or reduced because the special guardians' income has risen above the level at which they would qualify for financial support, it shall be open to the special guardian to make an application to the Council at any time for a financial reassessment if their circumstances change and their income falls. Comprehensive documentation in relation to income and other financial sources, savings, state benefits claims must be provided to enable the Council to reconsider a request for financial support. If this is not supplied the Council will not be able to undertake a financial reassessment.
In the case of those whose finances have been suspended or withdrawn, the grounds for financial support to be reinstated will be subject to the Council's specific conditions. A financial re-assessment will be undertaken by the Council in such circumstances.
Discretionary payments are subject to the availability of Council funds.
The above provisions shall be set out in the agreement between the special guardian and the Council and this document shall form part of the agreement between the Council and the Special Guardian.
6. Frequency of Payment
Special guardianship financial support, when paid in the form of ongoing periodic payments will be paid through the direct payment into a nominated bank account (BACs).
The frequency of payment will either be fortnightly or monthly and will be set out in the agreement.
7. Consultation and Notification to Special Guardians
The Council shall ensure that special guardians are consulted in advance about the arrangements to pay individual financial support to them, including the amount and the terms and conditions on which the financial support will be paid. The Council shall ensure that all terms and conditions are set out in writing in the form of an agreement entered into between the Council and the Special Guardian. The agreement will be signed.
The terms and conditions of the payment of financial support shall include the following:
- Initial financial assessment and required financial income/expenditure evidence from the prospective special guardian (including evidence to seek and recover potential contributions);
- The amount and frequency of payment of financial support;
- The method of payment;
- The date of first payment;
- The expected duration of financial support;
- The requirements for the review of the financial support;
- The frequency of such reviews and how they shall be conducted;
- The review criteria, and any other items as shall be determined in the particular circumstances; and
- The Council's and special guardian's respective commitments and responsibilities under the scheme as set out in the letter of agreement.
The special guardians shall notify the Service Delivery Manager Placements immediately of any change of circumstances which might, in the context of the original agreement, result in the financial support being increased, reduced or stopped. Any failure to do so may result in the Council seeking reimbursement of sums paid to the special guardian, or suspension or disqualification if funds have been obtained through the submission of incorrect figures of income and expenditure evidence or failure to notify the Council about a change/s to income or expenditure.
8. Arrangements Across Local Authority Areas
Where financial support has been agreed by a placing authority
other than Telford & Wrekin the other authority will be responsible for the financial support of the child.
Responsibility continues to rest with the placing local authority, for assessing the needs for all forms of support arising for the first time after the Special Guardianship Order is granted (Including financial for 3 years from the date of the SGO was granted).
Thereafter the responsibility rests with the authority in whose areas the child lives.
9. Notification and Appeal
The prospective Special Guardian will be provided with an offer letter of financial support where this has been agreed ( Former Foster carer) or assessed as discretionary.
Where a request has been made for financial support and discretionary offer of payment has been made to the SGO applicant/s, applicants may appeal a discretionary allowance awarded.
- The applicant/s must write to the Service Delivery Manager Placements within 28 days of receiving the discretionary offer letter or letter stating that a discretionary payment has not been awarded;
- The letter must specify the reasons for appeal;
- The letter of appeal will be considered by the SGO Panel within 21days of its receipt and a response in writing will be supplied to the applicant/s within 7 days of the decision having been made by the SGO Panel;
- If the SGO panel request further documentary evidence or wish to undertake a further reassessment of the financial income and expenditure of the applicant/s this must be complied with by the applicant within a stated time limit. Failure to comply with requests for information or attendance to meetings may result in the Council deferring any re-assessment to the next annual review.
Appendix 1: Special Guardianship Allowances Effective from 01/02/2011
||Child benefit rates below/Child Tax Credit/CSA payments and other benefits which are available to the Prospective Special Guardian.