Monthly Archives: November 2013

Damning Report on Family and Friends Care from Local Government Ombudsman welcomed

The Local Government Ombudsman has launched a damning report on local authorities failure to support family and friends Carers.

A damning report on Family and Friends Care from Local Government Ombudsman can be seen here.

Commenting Nigel Priestley said “Family and friends cares contact us from across the country. Many Carers find that they suddenly have to take responsibility for grandchildren, nephews or nieces or friends children.

Only today I have seen a 70 year old retired pilot who has taken responsibility for his 11 year old grandchild who was abandoned by his mentally ill daughter at school. Out of the blue he took on a caring role with his wife. And then he ran slap bang into a local authority that was determined to view this a private family arrangement. His grandson has been emotionally damaged and needs special support in school.

He is typical of the Carers who contact us. At the moment we are getting 8-10 new contacts each week. As a trustee of the Family Rights Group I know the pressure that their telephone Advice Line is under.

Family and friends Carers simply do not know the rights and responsibilities of local authorities. In our experience it has been necessary to force local authorities to accept their responsibilities.

As a firm we have brought a series of Judicial Reviews in relation to the rights of Family and Friends Carers. Local authorities seem to prefer fighting Carers and spending council tax payers money rather than addressing the needs of the children and their Carers.

Ridley and Hall have been at the forefront of ensuring that local authorities fulfil their duties to family and friends Carers.

Of the 5 key cases that govern the rights of grandparent and kinship Carers , 3 have been brought by my firm -

We brought an action against Kent which went to the Court of Appeal on the issue of s20 Children Act.It is the leading case. It is vital that children are recognised as looked after children. It’s not simply in relation to guaranteed financial support. It ensures access to school and support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Carers have their own social workers. They get access to training and support groups.

We succeeded in the Court of Appeal in July in a landmark decision against Tower Hamlets which means that family and friends foster Carers are entitled to the same fees as foster Carers.

We successfully challenged Kirklees policy of paying Special Guardianship Allowances at 2/3 the rate of fostering allowances.

As a result of the need for accessible quality advice we launched the Grandparents Legal Centre

We have recovered over £1 million in back payments for family and friends Carers.

Nigel Priestley is a trustee of Family Rights Group and this year was named Legal Champion of the Year at Grandparents Plus Kinship Care Awards. He was awarded National Solicitor of the Year Award in 2010 in the Law Society Excellence Awards. You can find Nigel’s profile here.

For further information, advice or assistance please contact Ridley & Hall Solicitors on 01484 538421.

Deprivation of Liberty Explained

In the Huddersfield Examiner recently, a disturbing case was reported where “little known Deprivation of Liberty (DoL) legislation” was used. Kirklees Council and South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust used their powers to split up an elderly couple and take them into different care homes, with the views of their son not being heard.

The Deprivation of Liberty safeguards (DOLS) appear to be a draconian measure taken by health care trusts and local authorities as they can be used to take someone into a care home or hospital against their wishes. They can also be used to put other restrictions on people, such as controlling who they can see and where they go. They can be extremely distressing particularly when husbands and wives are torn apart and are only allowed to see each other for a limited time.

It must be borne in mind when using such ‘safeguards’ there are certain criteria which must be met. For the safeguards to be applied to someone, that person should have been shown not to have the mental capacity to make decisions in relation to the reason why the safeguards were applied.

Also, people who are caring for the person should be consulted. Unfortunately, family members often feel excluded from the process when they shouldn’t be.

If it is felt that the decisions taken are not in the best interests of the person then legal action can be taken to challenge the local authority’s / health trust’s actions.

Rebecca Chapman of Ridley and Hall Solicitors said:

“It is worrying that at a difficult time in a vulnerable person’s life, those closest to them and who know them best are not listened to and excluded when the State is making decisions on their behalf. This situation can speedily breakdown any working relationship between family members and the local authority / NHS, often making the situation worse for the vulnerable person.

If the protocols were followed correctly and family members’ views were taken into account then it would help to reduce the stress faced by the family and vulnerable person at such a time.”

If you are currently experiencing problems with DOLS please contact Rebecca Chapman or Nigel Priestley at Ridley and Hall Solicitors on 01484 538421.

Ridley & Hall Review of the Care Leavers Charter

Many grandparent carers and family and friends carers will be caring for “looked after” children who are approaching 16 – or who may have already reached it. This briefing sets out the key responsibilities of local authorities for these children who will soon be leaving care.

What are the duties of Local Authorities?

Local authorities have a duty to support “looked after” children and provide services to enable them to live in a safe, loving environment. Children can be “looked after” until they reach the age of 16 and it is often a misconception that once a child turns 16, local authority involvement automatically ceases.

But in fact the local authorities duties extend further than this. There is support available for children who are leaving care at the age of 16 up to the age of 21, or 25 if they are in further education.

The Care Leavers Charter

In October 2012, the Department of Education launched the ‘Care Leavers Charter’, a contract between local authorities and young people leaving care setting out what support care leavers can expect.

A year later in October 2013 and over 120 local authorities have signed up to the charter, pledging to prioritise the needs of young people leaving care.

Around 10,000 young people aged 16-18 in England leave care each year. This is a vulnerable time as they transition into adulthood. Research shows that the quality of support offered to care leavers is often lacking and the transition to adulthood can often be an anxious time for young people. Many young people feel isolated and often struggle to find work which can lead to long term unemployment and involvement in crime.

The Care Leavers Charter aims to provide support and guidance to care leavers and for them to ‘expect the same level of care and support that other young people get from their parent’. The main areas which have been looked at are education, employment, financial support, health, housing, justice system and on-going support, for example;


The Department of Education found that 34% of all care leavers aged 19 were not in education, employment or training compared to 15.5% of the general population of 18 year olds. In addition, only 6% of care leavers went on to higher education compared to 23% of their peers. 80% of non-looked after children obtained 5 A*-C GCSE’s compared with only 37% of looked after children.

The Department of Education has placed a duty on local authorities to provide a personal adviser to all care leavers up to the age of 25 who wish to continue with education/training. Local authorities are to encourage care leavers to remain in education, take up training opportunities and undertake activities aimed at improving employability.

2. Employment

The Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide 18-24 year olds access to additional advice, support, work experience and apprenticeships. Job Centre Plus advisers are also to provide this support to care leavers who face greater difficulties in finding work.

3. Financial Support

16-19 year olds attending a furthere education course are entitled to a bursary of £1,200. Care leavers attending university are entitled to a higher education bursary of £2,000.

DWP has ensured that dedicated Job Centre Plus advisers can support care leavers in making a claim for benefits in advance of leaving care to prevent hardship when they first leave.

97 Local Authorities to date have signed up to pay at least £2,000 to care leavers by way of a setting up home allowance (leaving care grant). In the future it is hoped that statutory guidance will be issued to encourage all local authorities to pay this allowance.

4. Health

The mental health strategy ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ published in February 2011 highlights the fact that looked after children and care leavers mental health needs are often greater than the general population. The Department of Health is investing £54 million in 2011-2015 to improve access to psychological therapies and CAMHS.

5. Housing

Around one quarter of those living on the streets have a background in care and it is often difficult for care leavers to find suitable accommodation.

The Department of Education has revised leaving care guidance to encourage local authorities to consider introducing the ‘staying put’ provision. Some local authorities are using ‘staying put’ arrangements to ensure that care leavers can continue to live with and get support from former foster carers.

6. Justice System

Care leavers are a group at risk of being drawn into crime and are equally particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.

In October 2013, new guidance was published where a range of providers not just prison and probation staff will have responsibility for supporting young adults to make the right choices and reduce the rates of re-offending.

The Youth Justice Board funds dedicated social worker’s in all under 18 young offender institutions to meet the needs of looked after children and care leavers.

7. On-going Support

The Department of Education has issued guidance ‘Transitions to Adulthood’ which places a duty on local authorities to stay in touch and support care leavers until 21, and beyond if in education.

The Department of Education has pledged to open a savings account for all care leavers who have been in care for a year or more with an initial £200 which they can access when they turn 18.

What’s next?

Data collection is to continue and a further report will be issued in October 2014 to measure progress and set out what more can be done to support care leavers and helping them to improve their lives.

Helen Jarvis is a member the Grandparents Legal Centre legal team. If you have any questions about the Care Leavers Charter, “looked after” children, grandparent carers or family and friends carers, please contact Helen by telephoning 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

‘Big Bruv Little Sis’

Nigel Priestley met Alan Johnson the former Labour Cabinet minister in London recently. Mr Johnson has become a patron of the Family Rights Group, a family support organisation of which Mr Priestley is a trustee.

Alan Johnson has been in the news following the publication of a best selling autobiography “This Boy“. The book tells the story of his early life. He was brought up by his 15 year of sister after both his parents died. Alan Johnson has been described as “one of the best prime
ministers this country could have ever had”.

Commenting Mr Priestley said “FRG recently published research “Big Bruv Little Sis” which showed that sibling carers experience age discrimination- they are not taken seriously because of their age.

Despite juggling college or work commitments they struggled to get support from Children’s Services.”

“I’m pleased that with our specialist lawyers at Ridley and Hall sibling carers and kinship carers can find a team committed to fighting for the support they need.”

For legal advice and assistance for sibling carers and kinship carers, please contact the team at Ridley and Hall on tel: 01484 538 421 or email

Ridley & Hall in Uganda!

Sarah Young, one of Ridley & Hall’s partners, and John Royle (on the right of the photograph) with fellow Huddersfield solicitors Frazer Hirst and Anne Pendlebury have spent a week in Kampala, Uganda training lawyers and students. Almost 200 lawyers came to their 2 day training which was arranged with the Uganda Law Society, with 400 trainee lawyers attending a session held by the team.

The photograph is with Andrew Kasirye, a former President of the ULS, who was instrumental in setting up the unique twinning link between Huddersfield Law Society and Uganda Law Society. The twinning link was formed in 2002. Mr Kasirye commented “The Twinning link has succeeded beyond our dreams. It has a life of its own – a professional DNA!”

Nigel Priestley Signs Up for Liverpool FC!

Nigel Priestley will be speaking at Anfield on Thursday 5th December as part of the Grandparents Plus regional event in Liverpool. The event is free and will give kinship carers and kinship care professionals the opportunity to meet others in the same situation, attend workshops and hear from speakers such as Nigel, along with Stephen Twigg MP, Bernie Brown, Assistant Director of Liverpool Childrens Services and local kinship carer, Jan Brown OBE.

The workshops will cover a range of issues that kinship carers have asked for help with, including ‘Anger Management in Children’ and ‘Managing Your Own Emotions in Raising your Kinship Children’. There will also be the ever-popular workshop on ‘Financial Support for Kinship Carers’, as well as a workshop for kinship care professionals to exchange ideas and share best practice.

Places are limited but if you would like to attend or for further information about the event, please contact Alana or Susannah at Grandparents Plus on 0208 981 8001 or by e-mail.

For further information or queries about kinship care, contact us on 01484 538421 or e-mail.

Welfare Benefits News Bulletin

October 2013 has seen some huge changes to the benefits system and most of these remain as controversial as ever, with campaigners, disability charities and the legal profession mounting opposition to the unfairness in the new system.

Sangeeta Enright, Welfare Benefits Adviser, summarises the main changes and how these will impact on claimants.

Personal Independence Payment

Disability Living Allowance for adults (aged 16-64) was replaced, for those making new claims in June 2013, by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The background to the change was highly controversial as the new mobility rules meant that 500,000 claimants would lose out under the new system because there was a new (tighter) threshold introduced. This meant that if you could walk between 20 metres and 50 metres, you would no longer qualify. Following a successful judicial review against the government on the failure to consult, the DWP appeared to ‘pause’ and carry out the consultation exercise required. However, it was announced, last month, that in spite of reservations and criticisms to the new 20 metre rule from nearly all the responses; they were going to keep this distance as the threshold, leading to real fears that disabled people with serious walking difficulties, who might have a Motability vehicle, will lose the vehicle and their independence if they do not qualify.

The consultation outcome of the assessment of the PIP moving around activity can be found here.

October was also supposed to be the month for reassessing existing DLA claimants for PIP, nationally; but this roll out has now been delayed in all areas apart from Wales and central England. PIP claims involve a face to face assessment which will be carried out by the private companies; Capita or Atos. There are huge concerns being reported that Atos may not be ready to deliver, whilst the DWP say they are gradually beginning to reassess DLA claimants before rolling out this process across the country. The uncertainty for many, who may have a change in their condition to report, will be difficult to bear at a time when most are worried about their finances. The timetable for reassessment can be found here.

Universal Credit and the ‘Claimant Commitment’

Universal Credit is the new benefit which will replace all the ‘working age’ benefits; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. It is expected to be in place by 2017. Having been trialled in Jobcentres in the Manchester area, this month sees the extension of the benefit to Hammersmith in London.

At the same time, ‘Claimant Commitment’ for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants has also started in Jobcentres in Rugby and Inverness. The DWP says that new jobseekers will have to account more clearly for their efforts to find work in order to receive their benefit.

New claimants to Jobseeker’s Allowance will now need to sign a Claimant Commitment which sets out more fully what they need to do in order to receive state support – building on current support and providing clear information about the consequences of failing to meet requirements.

Work coaches will help claimants set out a detailed statement of what they will do to find work using a new personal work plan. Claimants will also use the plan to record what they have done. They will renew their Claimant Commitment on a regular basis.

Claimants will have to provide evidence to prove they have met the requirements in their Claimant Commitment. Those who fail to do so, without good reason, risk losing their benefits.
The Claimant Commitment is being introduced in around 100 Jobcentres a month, until it is in place across the country by spring 2014.

The new procedure for challenging DWP decisions

Mandatory reconsiderations introduced

If your decision about benefits is about PIP or Universal Credit, you may be aware that the only way of disputing the decision is to request a mandatory reconsideration and then, if you are still not happy, you can lodge your appeal.

From 28th October 2013, this process now applies to all benefits, and the concern is; that if you are disputing a decision on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you can now, no longer, be paid ESA (at the assessment phase rate) whilst you are waiting for this mandatory reconsideration to be carried out.

It is possible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance during this period and then ‘switch’ to ESA once you have lodged an appeal (and provide sick notes) but many are not able to do so.

The important change leaves many fearing a lack of income whilst waiting for this stage in the process. They may fear disputing their decision at all, and many appeals are successful.

It is crucial that the deadlines are not missed. A decision must be disputed within 1 month by way of mandatory reconsideration, and once this is carried out, you have 1 month to complete a form SSCS1, along with your mandatory reconsideration outcome notice, in order to lodge your own appeal directly with the Tribunals Service.

More information can be found here.

For further information on welfare reform and advice please contact Sangeeta Enright on 01484 538421.

Mortgage Rate Rises Around the Corner

The national news has been more positive as of late with welcome evidence that the economy is ‘turning a corner’ and showing early signs of a sustainable recovery.

However, home owners should be aware that the news is not without a sting in the tail since as confidence grows the more likely it is that they should prepare for higher mortgage rates.

Whilst Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, is reassuring householders that the bank rate will stay at its record low level of 0.5% until at least 2016 when he expects unemployment to drop to 7%, market analysts disagree arguing that the bank rate could rise a year earlier in 2015 or even next year, as unemployment fell from 7.8% to 7.7% in the three months to the end of July.

In addition the rise on government bonds, which dictates the cost of fixed rate mortgages, have soared.

Mortgage customers have enjoyed a long period of record low rates but brokers warn that fixed rates have now bottomed out and the only way is up.

There are some steps home owners can take to dampen the effect of mortgage rate rises as and when they occur.

Where you can afford to do so, you should consider making overpayments on your loan to reduce the capital outstanding on your mortgage upon which mortgage interest is charged particularly since savings interests rates remain poor.  Clearly the less you owe, the less interest you will be charged and the more likely you will be able to cope with a mortgage interest rate rise as and when it arrives.

By example, based on a £200,000 mortgage over 25 years at an interest rate of 4%, an overpayment of an extra £100 a month would clear your mortgage debt 3 years and 4 months early.

However, if you are currently in a fixed rate mortgage you should be careful that you do not exceed any cap on overpayments of the amount you can overpay on your mortgage since doing so may bring about a ‘repayment penalty’.

If you have finished a fixed or variable deal and are sitting on your lender’s standard variable rate, you should consider whether to fix now.  Brokers are recommending five year deals to get the most benefit from record low rates and since it is not expected that fixed deals will get any cheaper.  Of course, if you are looking to sell your property in the near future, this may not be the best way forward since fixing your interest rate could bring about a penalty payment on repayment of the mortgage.

If you are bound within a fixed rate, perhaps at a time when fixed rates were being sold at 4.99% it may be worth considering breaking out of the deal, paying the early repayment charge, and fixing at a lower rate.  Of course, whether this is a financially viable prospect should be determined upon your sums being correctly and carefully calculated since aside from the initial interest rate reduction and the resulting impact on monthly instalments, there would be costs associated with the switch including the new lenders fees, valuation, etc, and the legal costs associated with the change.

Offset deals have become popular over recent years.  These work by offsetting your savings against your mortgage loan, reducing the mortgage interest payable whilst the offset savings account earns no interest.  For example, if you have a mortgage of £200,000 but also have savings of £50,000, the interest payable on your loan would only be payable on the differential of £150,000.  Considering the extremely poor savings interest rates, this offers better returns.  Better still, your savings are instantly accessible should they be required.

Whilst therefore it is not possible to escape any imminent mortgage interest rate rises, there are ways and means of minimising its effects.

Should you require legal assistance in the remortgaging of your property from one lender to another, do not hesitate to contact either Liz Wallis, Alison Mason or Adam Fletcher at Ridley & Hall.