North Tyneside Council has failed to follow statutory guidance on allowances paid to 172 special guardians over a number of years, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
A report published today said the council wrongly calculated payments to special guardians, who are given parental responsibility for a child who is not their own, using a set percentage of allowances given to foster carers, rather than using this maximum amount as a basis for the means test.
This resulted in at least 172 special guardians being paid less than they were entitled to and North Tyneside has been told by ombudsman Michael King to backdate payments to all special guardians to November 2013, the date when the ombudsman circulated a report to councils calling on them to adhere to statutory guidance.
North Tyneside’s policy came to light following a complaint to the ombudsman by Mrs X.
She was a special guardian to her grandchild when she complained to the council in 2011 that she was being paid less than she was entitled to as North Tyneside was capping the allowance at or below a percentage of rates paid to foster carers.
At the time, the council dealt with the complaint to Mrs X’s satisfaction but did not change its policy on allowances or reimburse other special guardians.
Mrs X then became a special guardian to two more grandchildren in March 2015 but the council again calculated her allowance as a percentage of its fostering rate.
Mrs X made a further complaint and the council received legal advice in April 2016 that it was not following statutory guidance.
The council admitted its policy was not fit for purpose in its final response to the complaint in September 2016 and admitted it was investigating 171 other similar cases that could have been affected.
North Tyneside said it would backdate correct payments to March 2015, once it had implemented a new policy compliant with statutory guidance.
However, the council continued to make payments based on a percentage paid to foster carers as it was “unable” to implement the new policy, which was approved in September last year.
The council’s initial view was that it should only backdate payments to April 2016 as this was when it received the legal advice following Mrs X’s second complaint.
Mr King concluded North Tyneside had been underpaying special guardians since 2010, when case law established that allowances should not be calculated as a percentage of fostering allowance.
He rejected the council’s initial view that payments should be backdated to 2016 as it should have acted far sooner.
North Tyneside has now agreed to identify all other special guardians affected since November 2013 and make appropriate backdated payments to those affected. It is not yet known how much this will cost the council.