Northumberland Grandparent Carers Win £14,000 from County Council
Northumberland County Council have agreed to pay an ongoing weekly allowance and backdated payments for grandparent carers.
The grandparents from Blyth were caring for two of their grandchildren. The children were placed with them by social services as their parents were unable to look after them. Social services encouraged the grandparents to obtain residence orders and then refused to provide any further support to the family.
The family were on a low income and had retired from work. The children were placed with their grandparents as a direct alternative to foster care. The first grandchild was aged 6 when he went to live with the grandparents in 2005, he is now 14 years old. Social services asked the grandparents to care after his mother said that she could not look after him. Northumberland also encouraged the grandparents to obtain a residence order which gave the rights of a parent.
A few months later the second grandchild was abandoned at school by his mother. Northumberland Social Services again requested the grandparents to look after the child and obtain a residence order, which was granted in 2006. He was 6 years old when the order was made. He is now 13.
The grandparents were in their late 50s when they were asked to care for the children and were planning for retirement. When the children came they had to move to a larger house to make enough space. They had to buy new clothes for the boys as the clothes they came in did not fit and were not suitable. They also had to buy new beds and bedroom furniture for the boys. The grandmother had recently been made redundant and spent her redundancy money on kitting out the boys and making the new home comfortable.
The grandfather said, “We requested some assistance from social services but we were told that they were unable to provide any financial help and all they could do was give us some advice about issues in the future. We did not receive any help for either kitting out the children or with the move to the new home.”
“In around 2009 we were speaking to another carer who informed us that we might be eligible for a residence order allowance. We telephoned social services and spoke to the duty social worker who told us that we would have had to apply for the allowance at the time of applying for the residence order and because we did not apply at that time we were not now eligible for the allowance. We were not aware of the possibility of applying for a residence order allowance when we applied for the orders. They also said that the local authority does not have money for funding such allowances.”
“We contacted social services again during the summer holidays in 2011 as we were struggling to pay for the children’s school uniforms but we were told that social services do not provide such funding.”
Eventually the grandparents instructed Rebecca Chapman at Ridley & Hall Solicitors. She advised them that Northumberland were wrong. She contacted the county council in February 2012 requesting the local authority assess whether they would be eligible for an allowance. Further letters were then sent but the local authority ignored the requests for support. Eventually judicial review proceedings were issued in September 2012.
Once proceedings had been issued, with the threat of further legal costs, Northumberland decided that they would eventually conduct the assessment in order to see whether the grandparents were eligible for a residence order allowance.
The assessment took place and the grandparents were awarded a weekly residence order allowance of £321.06 for both children and the allowance was backdated, leading to a sum of just over £14,000.
The grandparents reaction was, “We are absolutely delighted that we have been granted the allowance. It will make a huge difference to the boys’ lives. The boys will be able to take part in more after school activities. Also, they have always been embarrassed about the bedrooms and clothes so have been reluctant to invite their friends over. Hopefully with this money we will be able to decorate their rooms to their liking which will encourage them to have their friends over. The money will ensure that they will have a decent start in life.
“Although we are happy with the allowance we are very disappointed that we had to fight to get it. When we were first asked by social services to care for the children I believe they should have looked at what support we needed in order to be able to give them a normal and comfortable home. This did not happen and every time we asked for help we were told it was not available, only when their actions were about to come under the scrutiny of the courts did they act to promote the children’s welfare.”
Rebecca Chapman of specialist law firm Ridley and Hall said, “The grandparents were delighted to receive the allowance and backdated amount, however, they remain annoyed that the council did not respond to their request for help. They wanted to be able to provide the children with a good future and allow them to attend local football clubs and swimming lessons and to make sure they were clothed adequately. However, the local authority was unwilling to provide this assistance even though they had placed the children. It was only when the local authority were faced with a legal challenge and high legal costs, were they willing to even consider conducting the assessment to see if they were eligible for such an allowance.
It is disgusting that the council were not willing to provide support to those people who really need it without legal proceedings having to be issued.”