Monthly Archives: May 2013

Welfare Reform – Benefits Advice

The government’s plans for shaking up welfare reform are making many people anxious.

At Ridley & Hall Solicitors we believe that people who need help should be able to get personalised support and help during their lives if they are facing difficult times. The need for tailored welfare benefits advice has never been greater. Changes to welfare reform have started to hit individuals and families with low income and in June and October 2013 we will see some more reforms.

With funding cuts hitting the public and voluntary sector as well as big changes to Legal Aid, it is harder to seek out advice and help. Welfare rights advisers keep up to date. They seek to challenge unfair policy and get you the best outcome possible so that you can move forward with your life and support others who may be relying on you for care.

Are you claiming DLA?

You may have heard about the changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA). For claimants aged 16 or over there is a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from June 2013. PIP is not means-tested and if you have disabilities, you may qualify. At present, DLA will remain for children under 16.

People over 16 already on DLA are expected to be assessed to transfer to PIP by the end of 2016.

Are you caring for a child with a disability?

Many grandparent or kinship carers are not aware that they may be able to claim DLA in respect of the child they are caring for.

For example: Does the child have a Statement of Educational Needs? If you are caring for a child with difficult behaviour, which could be an autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you should seek our advice? However, if it does not fit these categories, contact us for advice anyway.

It is vital that you have specialist advice as to whether you are receiving the right benefits for them and for you as a carer.

Are you approaching state retirement age?

Are you satisfied that you are getting the correct benefits and support? Welfare reform will bring some changes to benefits for older people in spite of government assurances that they will be protected. It is important to seek advice as to whether you or your partner could qualify for pension credit before October 2013. It is believed that around a third of pensioner households entitled to pension credit are not claiming it. Take up is low, especially amongst those that own their own home.

Other areas we can help with are:

  • Housing benefit and the impact of ‘bedroom tax’ decisions
  • Appeals in relation to employment and support allowance, attendance allowance and the benefits already mentioned above
  • Overpayment appeals and recovery
  • Complaints against the DWP for maladministration
  • Tax credits decisions and disputes

Our experienced welfare benefits adviser, Sangeeta Enright, would be happy to discuss your needs with you and offer advice with transparent details of fixed fees for different types of assistance. She specialises in disability benefits and has had training on autistic spectrum disorders. She has a record of success with her appeals and actively assists with negotiation and obtaining evidence. Sangeeta listens with empathy and gives pragmatic advice on your options.

We have a strong and dynamic Community Care team and we care about the issues that you are facing. Our team can help you in a variety of ways. As well as individualised, practical welfare benefits advice, we also provide the following:

  • Assessment of social care needs
  • Care/support plans
  • Direct payments for care
  • Kinship and adoption support
  • Fostering/SGO/residence order allowances
  • Adaptations to the home
  • Funding for social care
  • Judicial review
  • Court of Protection

Please contact Sangeeta or a member of the Community Care team on 01484 538 421.

Please note: We can no longer offer advice and assistance funded by Legal Aid for welfare benefits.

Support for Families who are the Victims of Crime

The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘The Murder Workers’ was extremely interesting, if at times distressing viewing.

The programme focused on the work of Victim Support officers within the homicide team, and the work they undertake with families who are plunged into a world of chaos due to a relative being murdered.

One worker based in Essex, had worked with a grandmother for over 12 months who found herself as the full time carer for her three young grandchildren after her daughter, the children’s mother, was murdered by her partner, the children’s father.

The Victim Support worker assisted the grandmother in a number of ways, including providing emotional and financial support and to encourage child behavioural specialists to work with the children, who had witnessed their mother’s death.

One part of the programme also focused on the legal procedure the grandmother had to face. Although the children’s father had been found guilty of murder and was serving a lengthy prison sentence, as the only person with parental responsibility for the children, the grandmother found herself having to consult with the father on important decisions regarding the children’s well-being. Eventually, she was given an order of the court which gave her parental responsibility for her grandchildren and the father’s parental responsibility was taken away by the courts.

Helen Dandridge, Trainee Solicitor at Ridley & Hall, comments “Up and down the country, there are thousands of grandparents, relatives and other kinship carers who find themselves having to care for children through no fault of their own, whether this is a result of death or not. At such a traumatic time, considering any legal implications for the children are often not high on the list of priorities”.

Ridley & Hall is one of the leading law firms providing specialist advice and support to those carers to secure the legal and financial recognition they deserve. We are able to assist families in obtaining relevant court orders, including residence orders and special guardianship orders and to secure financial assistance from the local authority.

If you would like more information, please contact us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Family First Team.

Click here for more information about the services offered in Family First.

200 Carers May Benefit As Derbyshire Grandma Celebrates Victory Over County Council’s Payment Policy

200 carers may benefit as Derbyshire grandma celebrates victory over county council’s payment policy.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner, Ridley & Hall Solicitors

A 68 year old grandmother from Swadlincote is celebrating today settling her claim against Derbyshire County Council. She brought a judicial review against the county council which was listed for a two day hearing starting on 14th May. The case was settled at the 11th hour by a settlement which will transform her finances.

The action had been brought to challenge the county council’s policy on paying residence allowances. She has been caring for her 13 year old grandson since 2000. She previously cared for her granddaughter. The children had been placed by Derbyshire after they decided the parents could not care for them. She had been encouraged by the county council to apply for a residence order. This gave her parental responsibility of the children. The county council agreed to pay her a residence allowance.

Commenting on the case, Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner of the specialist law firm Ridley & Hall, said “Derbyshire’s approach was shameless. On 26th July 2011 in an advice to the Cabinet they were warned that paying residence allowances at 58% of fostering allowances could lead to a legal challenge. Despite the advice they received Derbyshire ignored it and kept paying just over £70 per week to my client.

“The fostering allowance was £156 per week. It is now approximately £160 per week.

“What makes the local authority’s approach so scandalous is that my client tried to settle the case without going to court. The county council must have known that they were onto a loser but we had to start judicial review proceedings. These proceedings challenge a local authority’s breach of its legal duties.

“A judge decided that the county council had a case to answer and gave my client permission to proceed. Derbyshire defended these proceedings so the case was listed for a 2 day hearing.

“I am delighted that the county council agreed to negotiate a settlement. The county council have agreed to make a back payment to my client to pay her the equivalent of a fostering allowance and to pay her legal costs. Council tax payers in Derbyshire should be asking their local councillors whether fighting this case was the best use of their council tax.

He concluded “Within the last two weeks the Buttle Trust published research from the University of Bristol warning that kinship carers faced financial hardship when they offered to care for their grandchildren. This research was confirmed this week in research sponsored by Family Rights Group from Joan Hunt from Oxford University called ‘It’s Just Not Fair‘.  These findings are hardly surprising when local authorities behave like Derbyshire

“I am told over 200 families are being paid residence allowances in Derbyshire. If they are being paid in the same way as my client, they need to act. They should be challenging the county council to pay them properly – or get in touch with me!

“My client is not alone. Across the country local authorities are paying limited residence allowances.”

The grandmother who cannot be named for legal reasons said “I’m delighted with this result. I love my grandchildren but caring for them has not been easy. Teenagers are expensive! I’m on pension credit. Money has been very tight. Every week I have had to make some difficult decisions about what I can and cannot afford. I know my way round the charity shops.

“These payments will make all the difference. I really hope that other grandparent carers in my position will challenge the county council. If I hadn’t had the specialist advice from Ridley & Hall I would never have won.

“I never understood the implications of having a residence order rather than being a kinship carer. I did what the county council suggested. For 13 years I have struggled financially. It should never have happened.”

The research report from Joan Hunt launched by FRG on 14th May commenting on the problems facing kinship carers concluded amongst other findings that “holders of residence orders appear to come somewhat lower down the support pecking order.” She commented that residence order holders may not have access to the same support services or may be paid at lower allowances.

For further information contact Nigel Priestley on 07885 430085 or 01484 538421.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors put Families First

Ridley & Hall have launched a new service to help separating parents who do not qualify for legal aid after the breakdown of their relationship.Meena Kumari, Head of Family First at Ridley & Hall Solicitors

Legal aid was removed for most private law family matters from 1st April when the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force.

Partner Meena Kumari is keen to support families in need of legal advice:-

“When a relationship breaks down it can be devastating.  We hope that our new service called Family First will provide the right support at the right price for our clients”.

The new service offers an innovative approach following the loss of legal aid.  Meena Kumari believes that Family First offers clients a greater freedom of choice and opportunity to save money on legal costs;

“We let clients choose the level of support they require for divorce and cases involving children.  The levels of support include a checking service for court documents, a do it yourself with help service where clients pick and choose when they need help and a pay as you go service.  There is complete transparency in relation to legal costs and there are no hidden fees”.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors are an award winning firm. The Family First team are Accredited members of Resolution, a member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Panel and trained in Collaborative law.

In addition, Ridley & Hall has set up a mediation department, headed by Vicky Medd.  Vicky is a family solicitor with over 20 years experience, and is a very experienced family mediator.  Vicky believes that clients should choose how they want to resolve their disputes.  “Mediation is a cost effective and speedy way of assisting clients in resolving their dispute.  Over the years I have helped many participants resolve disputes between themselves, without the intervention of the Court.  Costs have been significantly reduced and participants are in charge of the process, making the decisions themselves.”

For further information click here, call us on 01484 538421 or email us.

It’s Just Not Fair

Nigel Priestley was invited to attend the launch of a new report called It’s Just Not Fair from Joan Hunt and Suzette Waterhouse from University of Oxford at the House of Commons on 14th May. The launch was attended by Edward Timpson, the Children’s and Families Minister, MPs and members of the House of Lords as well as leading judges.

Commenting Mr Priestley said “Joan Hunt is one of the UKs leading researchers on kinship care. She is widely respected by the Government. I welcome the report’s findings. Ridley & Hall has a national reputation for ensuring that kinship carers have the support that they need. We know however that we are simply dealing with the tip of the iceberg.

The report found that many carers were in a weak position often lacking independent legal advice. A recent report on kinship care from University of Bristol and the Buttle Trust confirmed that family and friends carers need access to expert legal advice. The report emphasises that decisions taken about the carers and the support they need are so important as their impact can last for years.

These carers are looking after children whom the Report found had faced “multiple adversities.”

As a local example of the people the Report is referring to, this week I represented a 30 year old West Yorkshire man in care proceedings. He was the uncle who had put himself forward to care for his 3 nephews. We had a real battle with the local authority. They wanted the children adopted. All the children were under 5. The court decided he should be the carer and that the children should not go for adoption. He has a package of support that will help him. Without  the benefit of a solicitor he could easily have failed both in his application to care and to get an appropriate financial support package.

The report’s main conclusions are:

  • Children in kinship care have typically experienced multiple adversities, similar to those in unrelated care. Many kinship carers experience considerable stress in caring for these children and feel isolated and unsupported.
  • Although government guidance states that support should be needs-led and not dependent on the legal status of the arrangements, only a minority of professionals thought that local authorities were achieving this. Both carers and professionals identified many ways in which children and their carers are being failed.
  • There was a strong perception that local authorities actively resist the use of kinship foster care, with many professionals arguing that this is a deliberate strategy to keep the number of looked after children down and minimise the costs rather than reflecting the child’s best interests. Most professionals had experience of local authorities not complying with case law about the criteria for looked after status and some are said to be still acting unlawfully.
  • Carers are in a weak position in relation to local authorities, often lacking the failed. information and independent advice needed to make informed decisions and access support. The court process provides a potential safety net, protecting the interests of carers and children, but its operation is variable and there is a risk that it will be further weakened by changes to legal aid and care proceedings and diminishing input from children’s guardians.

Variation in practice within and between local authorities was a persistent theme, pervading all the data.

The critical dependence of support on legal status was abundantly clear, particularly evidenced in the professional data. Looked after status, the only one which provides entitlement to support, is an increasingly reliable passport to a comprehensive package of services for both carers and children. The statutory framework for special guardianship means that it is usually a better option than a residence order, but since supportis discretionary, very much inferior to kinship foster care. Informal arrangements are the least well supported. Carers who act on their own initiative to protect children are often discriminated against in terms of accessing support.

Although the research findings, on the whole, present a gloomy picture, some local authorities appear to be providing an above average level of service and there is also evidence that others are seeking to improve the support they provide. There are concerns, however, about the impact of current financial constraints on the support which can be provided to kinship care arrangements. This is a pivotal point in the development of kinship services.

The report was commissioned by the Family Rights Group. Nigel Priestley is a Trustee of the FRG.

Major Report on Kinship Care Concludes Carers Need Expert Legal Advice

A major study launched this week by leading children’s grant-giving charity, Buttle UK and the University of Bristol provides the most comprehensive picture to date across the UK of informal kinship care – children cared for informally by relatives and friends because their parents are no longer able to look after them.

The Poor Relations: Children and Informal Kinship Carers Speak Out  is the largest authoritative report to look at both the child’s perspective of living in an informal kinship care setting and the views of their carers.   It provides insights into how well, both emotionally and academically, these children are doing, how this compares with children in the formal care system and what impact such arrangements have on both children and carers. The findings are revealing and demonstrate clearly the true cost of informal kinship care and the huge challenges that this group face.

Commenting Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall, said “The report gives an authoritative account of the financial hardship, sacrifice, isolation and the cost to health of the relatives bringing up children across the UK with little or no statutory support – often at very little notice.  Each child cared for by an informal kinship carer saves the taxpayer between ¹£23,500 and £56,000 a year.”

“One of the key recommendations is that there needs to be better awareness among universal services such as GPs, teachers and solicitors.  The report found that “these are the first people to whom informal kinship carers turn.  These professionals need to be attuned to their needs.   Early independent legal advice is crucial.”

The report says, “Solicitors need to have the most up to date information not only about legal orders but also about the financial allowances they can attract, and be able advise carers how to argue for this help.” The report highlights the findings that carers had not been properly advised by solicitors about the duties of local authorities and the appropriate order for the children they are caring for.”

“The report found that most families are living in severe poverty- as a result of having the children.  Fewer than a third (31%) of the families can provide all the eight basic items considered by most of the population to be necessities, like heating, cooked meals and winter clothes. For example, over a third of the carers (37%) cannot afford warm winter clothes and one in five cannot afford toys and sports equipment for the children. The government’s cuts to welfare benefits will make their lives even more difficult. It is vital therefore that carers get advice about their financial entitlements.

“The fact that most receive no financial allowance from children’s services for the children’s upkeep is a lottery.  The willingness of these informal kinship carers to step up to take care of the children is allowing local authorities to view them as private arrangements, no matter how severe the maltreatment or other difficulties they are experiencing. The report found that the children’s family backgrounds are similar to those of children in the ‘looked after’ system.”

“I recently spoke at an event organised by Grandparents Plus and was shocked at the way carers had accepted orders which were completely inappropriate for the situation the carers were in.

The report emphasises the need for carers to get specialist legal advice. This is why we launched the Grandparents Legal Centre. Our specialist team of lawyers role is to ensure that carers could get the advice they need.”

He concluded, “Sadly for some carers it will be very difficult to get the private law orders they seek with the new restrictions on legal aid.  The report recommends that a legal aid fixed fee should be introduced to allow free advice and representation to obtain private law orders.”

Key Findings of the Report

Drug and alcohol problems feature heavily in the background of the parents in this new research, causing a child’s move into informal kinship care – which is often sudden and crisis-driven.  Findings show that just over two-thirds (67%) of these children are abandoned by parents who are affected by alcohol or drug misuse, including nearly a quarter (24%) who are misusing both. Exposure to domestic violence and parental mental illness was also common. These parents’ chaotic lives put their children at risk and led to parental indifference (64%) and to active rejection (26%) of their children.  Relatives and friends stepped in to care for them.

However, when looking at the carers, taking these responsibilities come at a huge personal cost. While they describe their pleasure at seeing the children thrive, they find parenting children is tiring and physically demanding.  Many (73%) have long-term health problems or disabilities and a third say their lives are restricted by pain.

These informal kinship carers, of whom half (51%) are lone carers, have foregone retirement and given up their jobs and their freedom. The young carers miss out on further education and job training and are the poorest of all. More than half of the carers (60%) had to manage difficult contact with the children’s parents.

Many kinship carers have feelings of hopelessness because of the restrictions on their own lives, their battles to get help and the strain of trying to manage the demands of the children with so few resources.

Other Key Findings:

  • While the majority are living with a grandparent, the first part of the study published in 2011 showed that as many as 38 per cent of kinship children in the UK are being brought up by a sister or brother. They are the poorest of all informal kinship carers.
  • The carers said that most of the children (88%) had been abused or neglected while they lived with their parents
  • More than a third (34%) of the children had experienced the death of one or both parents – considerably more than found in recent studies of children in care.
  • The informal kinship carers experience multiple losses: they have to change their life plans, lose their freedom – and, if young, the chance to train for a job. They lose friends, marriages come under pressure and they can become socially isolated.
  • The informal kinship carers’ commitment to the children provides them with psychological security and stability. As a result the children are doing well; considerably better than children in care.
  • Nonetheless, over a third (34%) of the children have severe behavioural and emotional difficulties as a result of their experiences of abuse and neglect when living with their parents.
  • Many of the informal kinship carers (73%) have long-term health problems or disabilities and a third of their lives are restricted by pain. As many as two-thirds (67%) are clinically depressed.
  • Even though the children’s backgrounds are similar to those of children in the care system, children’s services frequently refuse them help.

Despite the often difficult circumstances of the carers, the research shows that these informal kinship arrangements provide stability for the children. The children are doing well, have strong attachments to their carers and have good levels of academic attainment, particularly when compared to children in the formal care system. Many children have high educational aspirations with half planning to go to college (47%) and almost two fifths aiming for university.

Nigel Priestley is the Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and can be contacted by telephone on 01484 538421. Alternatively, for more information on kinship care, please visit the Grandparents Legal Centre.