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Council policy ‘left scores of families out of pocket’

Brought to you by the News Guardian.
Brought to you by the News Guardian.

Dozens of families in North Tyneside will be receiving backdated financial support after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found problems with the way a council was paying support to special guardians.

Following a complaint from a 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 local authority identified 171 families who may have not received the correct support.

The investigation found that it 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.

As well as writing to all special guardians to explain the changes that have been made in light of the findings, it has agreed to make backdated payments, although it has also stressed that ‘complaints of this nature against North Tyneside Council are very rare’.

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

“This is why I have asked North Tyneside Council to 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.”

Special guardians look after children who are not their own, following a court order.

The Special Guardianship Order (SGO) enables children to have more permanence than a regular fostering arrangement and gives their guardians more rights to make decisions on their behalf.

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.

A council spokesman said: “We’d like to offer reassurance that complaints of this nature against North Tyneside Council are very rare; we appreciate the vital role special guardians play in caring for a number of children in the borough and the difference they make for those children every day.

“In recent months, we have been working in partnership with the Local Government Ombudsman to resolve issues relating to the way in which we calculate special guardianship allowance payments.

“It is a complex and national issue, affecting many councils across the country, and we have worked to understand the dimensions of the problem and develop a satisfactory resolution.

“We have fully revised the way in which we calculate allowances and are writing to all special guardians to explain the changes that we have made in light of the findings of the Ombudsman.”