About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Special Guardianship Allowances

I will do a complete round up on this topic soon but a couple of preliminary thoughts.

The Regulations do not say that SG allowances can only be paid for 2 years - they say that the remuneration element of a foster care allowance cannot continue to be paid to a former foster carer beyond 2 years.

The payment of all residence/  kinship  / SG allowances are essentially dependent on council led policies and cannot be committed to for a child's minority.

Government guidelines on calculating SG allowances which have been adopted almost wholesale by many local authorities specifically state that if the SG is in receipt of income support the maximum allowance should be paid without the need for means testing.  Case law and current practice indicate that the same amounts should be on offer to a kinship carer, foster carer or SG (less the remuneration element).

The fact that a lay person, often unrepresented and unadvised, chooses to accept an amount offered by the LA does not remove the burden on the LA to assess their needs and apply their own policy to that person's situation.

I would be really interested in feedback about this to provide some definitive answers. This is a thorny topic and currently one it is difficult to deal with in court.  Potential SG's in particular and they are often grandparents do not realise what they might be entitled to and are hesitant about asking for it for fear that they are seen as mercenary or as not being able to cope on their current income.  I appreciate that there are policy issues to consider here: why should an SG carer or post care proceedings relative carer get more than the average single parent, for example. Why does a looked after child cost more?  But as long as the current policies exist they should be applied fairly and transparently.  I find myself baffled by the inconsistency of approach.  Some allowance decisions in LAs are being made at a panel level - perhaps we should be routinely asking for the minutes?  In any event you should be routinely asking for copies of the policy documents, not to mention the actual calculations applied to decide what amount should be paid to a particular carer.

LSC & contact: refusal to fund experts

In one particular area of the country the LSC's attitude on assessment of expert costs is causing much consternation.  I am being told that the Liverpool office of the LSC is declining to meet the costs of any assessment which incorporates an observation of contact.  For example, if an expert Psychiatrist is instructed and goes along to observe contact (even if supervised) the LSC will refuse to meet the costs of that session.  I cannot quite understand why there is any proper basis for this refusal since it is part and parcel of many assessments.  I could understand if funding was refused when an assessment report might be being used to ensure that funding is available to ensure contact is supervised by someone because the local authority / Cafcass are reluctant or unable to cover the costs or if it was a genuine contact activity situation  or work designed to improve the quality of contact.  But refusing the funding of an observation by an expert which is purely assessment and not therapy I cannot see the argument for.   For an individual solicitor refused such funding to the tune of £4/500 say, this is a significant loss of income but not so great that it might be worth challenging the LSC about.  For the LAs it could represent a significant cost if each case then costs them an extra £4/500 on top of the costs of supervision, provision of venue, transport costs etc and they are in no position to tackle the LSC directly.  At least one solicitor I know has been able to argue this out on assessment but it is yet another hassle for busy family practitioners.  I can think of some solutions - standardised submission letters to the LSC on the point, representations from user groups including judicial input to the LSC.  Is anyone else experiencing similar difficulties with other offices?  Any solutions you have found to take the sting out of this tail?