SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter describes the circumstances in which financial support may be available to Special Guardians and the process to be followed where financial support is provided.
RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE
Sections 14A-F of the Children Act 1989 (inserted by Section 115(1) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002)
Special Guardianship Regulations 2005
Special Guardianship Guidance
Special Guardianship Procedure
Financial support is one of the support services which may be available to Special Guardians.
The general principle underlying the provision of financial support is embodied in Regulation 6 (1) (a) and (b) of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 which states that financial support is payable:
- To facilitate arrangements for a person to become the Special Guardian of a child where the local authority consider such arrangements to be beneficial to the child’s welfare; or
- To support the continuation of such arrangements after a Special Guardianship Order is made.
Subsection (a) therefore relates to the application stage, whilst (b) refers to post-order financial support.
Where the local authority considers that providing financial support would:
- Enable a person to become a Special Guardian because this would be beneficial to the child’s welfare; or
- Support the continuation of the Special Guardianship relationship once an order is made.
It may provide financial support in the following circumstances, as detailed in Regulation 6(2) of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005:
- Where the local authority consider that it is necessary to ensure that the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian can look after the child;
- Where the local authority consider that the child needs special care which requires a greater expenditure of resources than would other wise be the case because of his illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or the consequences of his past abuse or neglect;
- Where the local authority consider that it is appropriate to any legal costs, including court fees, of a Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian, as the case may be, associated with:
- The making of a Special Guardianship Order or any application to vary or discharge such an order;
- An application for an order under section 8 of the Act;
- An order for financial provision to be made to or for the benefit of the child; or
- Where the local authority consider that it is appropriate to contribute to the expenditure necessary for the purposes of accommodating* and maintaining the child, including the provision of furniture and domestic equipment, alterations to and adaptations of the home, provision of means of transport and provision of clothing, toys and other items necessary for the purpose of looking after the child.
(*These are one-off costs only and will only be paid in exceptional circumstances).
||Although the child's welfare might suggest that financial support should be payable, this should be distinguished from the need for financial support. Where the case falls under paragraph 2.2 (a) above, a separate judgement must be made about the need for financial support to ensure the special guardian or prospective Special Guardian can look after the child. Need will vary according to the circumstances of the case. If the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian has adequate financial resources of their own it may be that the local authority will not be obliged to provide financial support because the test of necessity is not satisfied. However, even in such a case all the circumstances must be considered and an evaluation of need made.
||If the local authority is not satisfied that the making of a Special Guardianship Order would be beneficial to the child’s welfare there is no requirement for the local authority to either assist the applicants with the costs involved in making an application or to provide ongoing financial support.
||In such cases and in relation to the legal costs involved in making an application, applicants should be advised that they may be able to obtain help from the Legal Services Commission, although this will be subject to a means and merits test laid down by the Funding Code. For more details see A Practical Guide to Community Legal Service Funding by the LSC. This is available from the LSC Leafletline on 0845 3000 343, email LSCLeaflets@ecgroup.uk.com or fax 020 8867 3225.
The local authority’s approach will be informed by paragraph 37 of the Special Guardianship Guidance which states:
“Financial issues should not be the sole reason for a special guardianship arrangement failing to survive. The central principle is that financial support should be payable in accordance with the Regulations to help secure a suitable special guardianship arrangement where such an arrangement cannot be readily made because of a financial obstacle”.
||However, it should be made clear to applicants that the provision of financial support is not to maintain their current standard of living. Caring for any child by its very nature will make demands on income and is part of the financial responsibility that an adult with parental responsibility assumes for a child.
||Where the local authority considers that it is necessary to provide financial support to ensure that the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian can look after the child (Reg. 6(2) (a)) a financial assessment will be undertaken.
Before any assessment for financial support is requested, all applicants must receive a welfare rights assessment. This will ensure that they are claiming their full entitlement to benefits and tax credits. This is a regulatory requirement in considering the level of financial support that special guardians may be entitled to since this cannot duplicate any other payment available from another source.
Details of the Welfare Rights Assessment process can be found in the Special Guardianship Procedure.
The financial assessment will take account of the previously completed welfare rights assessment.
Nottinghamshire’s Special Guardianship Financial Support Scheme is based on the principle embodied in Paragraph 65 of the Special Guardianship Guidance:
“In determining the amount of any ongoing financial support, the local authority should have regard to the amount of fostering allowance which would have been payable if the child were fostered. The local authority’s core allowance plus any enhancement that would be payable in respect of the particular child, will make up the maximum payment the local authority could consider paying the family. Any means test carried out as appropriate to the circumstances would use this maximum payment as a basis”.
||Maximum payments are based on 100% of fostering allowances and are age-banded.
||A standardised means test is used to ensure fairness and consistency. However, applicants who are on Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit will automatically receive the maximum amount of financial support, subject to verification of the benefits and tax credits they are receiving. This will usually be provided by the Welfare Rights Officer who previously completed the applicant’s Welfare Rights assessment.
||In all other cases, applicants for financial support should be provided with a copy of the means test to ensure transparency. The means test is compliant with the requirements outlined in Regulation 13 in terms of when means may or must be disregarded.
||It is essential that the social worker, in discussion with their manager, establishes a clear rationale for the provision of financial support. This includes consideration of the issues in paragraph 2.3 above and should be with reference to the circumstances cited in regulations and outlined in paragraph 2.2 (a-d) above.
The social worker and manager should also consider the most appropriate way in which payment should be made, that is:
- By regular (weekly) ongoing payments;
- By a single payment for a specific item;
- By installments (e.g. costs to support contact).
Please note: the Welfare Rights assessment will have indicated if one form of payment might be preferable to another. In some circumstances, single payments may be more advantageous to Special Guardians because of the way in which the benefits system treats certain payments made by a local authority. The payment of ongoing financial support can result in the reduction of an existing means-tested benefit payment, providing no financial advantage to the special guardian.
||Once the steps in 4.5 and 4.6 have been completed, the social worker must seek authorisation from the Children’s Service Manager who has lead responsibility for Special Guardianship before requesting a financial assessment via Framework. The Service Manager must be satisfied that all necessary steps have been taken and that the decision making has been appropriate before authorising a financial assessment.
Framework: If the Children’s Service Manager responsible for Special Guardianship agrees that financial support is appropriate, the social worker should request a financial assessment by initiating the Framework episode of that name and completing the document. Details of the purpose of financial support and the preferred method of payment must be included. The social worker must also check the relevant box to confirm that the Children’s Service Manager has authorised financial support. This episode must not be completed until this authorisation has been obtained. The social worker should then send the task “Request Assessment for Financial Support” to the Payments Team.
The Payments Team will send an assessment form to the applicants and, using the means test, will calculate whether the applicants will be entitled to financial support, and at what level. The Payments Team will record the result in the return screen of the Framework episode when completing the task.
On receiving the completed task the social worker may then view the result of this assessment. The social worker closes the episode by moving to the Outcomes screen, choosing “Assessment completed” and clicking on Finish.
The Payments Team will also inform the applicants of the outcome directly. This notification must include:
- The amount of financial support;
- The frequency and method of payment;
- The period for which the financial support will be paid;
- The date when payments will start.
The arrangements and procedure for review, variation and termination of financial support must also be specified.
||Financial support can be considered for Nottinghamshire children who are to be, or have been, placed with special guardians living within the county. If special guardians live outside Nottinghamshire, financial support can only be provided if the children concerned are or were looked after by Nottinghamshire. If this is not the case Special Guardians should request an assessment for financial support from the local authority in whose area they live.
||Financial support may be provided as a regular payment, a single payment or in installments, if this is mutually agreed.
It will cease if the child:
- No longer lives with the Special Guardian;
- Ceases full-time education or training and starts work;
- Qualifies for Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance in their own right;
- Reaches the age of 18 unless still in full-time education or training, when it may continue until the end of the course or training.
Payment of ongoing financial support is dependant on the special guardian or prospective special guardian agreeing to the following conditions:
- That he will inform the local authority immediately if:
And that this is confirmed in writing within seven days if the information is given orally;
- He changes his address;
- The child dies;
- Any of the changes in 5.2 above apply;
- There is a change in his financial circumstances or in the child’s financial needs or resources.
- That he will complete an annual statement to confirm his financial circumstances, the financial needs and resources of the child, his address and that the child is still a member of the household.
||If the Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian previously fostered the child and received an element of remuneration in the allowance paid to them as foster carers, the local authority may continue to pay that element of remuneration for two years from the date of the Special Guardianship Procedure, or longer if this is considered appropriate.
||The local authority (via the Payments Team) will review the financial support payable on receipt of the annual statement sent to the Special Guardian. If the Special Guardian does not provide an annual statement as required, a written reminder will be sent. If after 28 days no statement has been received, the local authority may suspend, terminate or seek to recover financial support.
||A review will also be undertaken on notification of any relevant change of circumstances or whenever the local authority considers appropriate.
||The review will take account of all information provided by the Special Guardian. If it is proposed to reduce, vary or terminate existing financial support, the local authority must inform the Special Guardian accordingly and allow a period of 28 days for representations to be made before reaching a final decision. It may suspend payments during that time if that is considered to be appropriate.
When a final decision is made, the Special Guardian must be informed in writing, including the reasons for this.