Grandparents who were asked by Walsall Social Services to care for their grandchild have won a long battle for support in the Birmingham Administrative Court.
Mr and Mrs P were asked to look after their granddaughter, E, (who cannot be named for legal reasons) in December 2008. Walsall Council asked them to care when social workers became concerned that if E was to stay with her parents she would be harmed. E was 5 years old at the time.
The social worker telephoned Mr P from the police station and asked him to care for E as it was not safe for her to remain at home. The social worker then transported E to a service station in order for her to be collected by Mr P. When Mr P met with the social worker, she asked him to sign a document to allow the transfer of E. Mr P was not able to read the document as he did not have his glasses but signed the document as he believed he was signing to say that he had collected E. He said “It was like signing for a parcel. I thought they just wanted it in writing that I had collected her!”
It turned out that the document, written by social services, was to put restrictions on the contact E could have with her parents. It stated that the mother could only have supervised contact with E. The council did not offer any help with the conditions in the document. Neither did they provide any additional help with the practical arrangements. E arrived with Mr and Mrs P only with the clothes she stood up in. With the help of their friends they managed to get E some more clothes and Christmas presents.
The social worker did make a telephone call to check on the placement and then advised Mr and Mrs P to get a Residence Order for E. Mr and Mrs P were not happy with the support provided by social services and made a complaint. They believed as social services had placed E with them and had put conditions on the contact E was to have with her parents, they should be treated as foster carers and receive a fostering allowance. The result of the complaint was that the council did not agree that they should receive a fostering allowance.
They then took their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman who took over a year to investigate and concluded that the arrangement between the mother and Mr and Mrs P was a ‘private agreement’ and therefore the local authority did not have to pay an allowance.
Mr and Mrs P were dismayed at the decision of the Ombudsman and therefore instructed Ridley & Hall Solicitors to pursue a judicial review of the council’s decision.
The administrative court found that E’s placement was not a private arrangement between the mother and Mr and Mrs P. The judge decided that the council had placed E and she was a ‘looked after’ child. This means that the council should have been paying a fostering allowance to the grandparents for the care they are providing.
Walsall Council has now been ordered to start paying a fostering allowance to Mr and Mrs P. The grandparents can look to the council to provide other support should they need it.
Mrs P commented:
“This is the best Christmas present I could have wished for! Five years ago we had to do our best to get some Christmas presents for our granddaughter. We stepped in when Social Services asked – then they abandoned us!
“It has been a long fight. It shouldn’t have been necessary. E is now 10 years old. However I am pleased that her status has now been recognised and has to be acknowledged by Walsall Council.
“I won’t have to worry about Christmas presents in the future. Santa has come early to our house. The extra money will be of great benefit. We are both retired and were struggling to maintain her.”
“This case has taught me how important it is for grandparent carers to get expert advice.
“It’s amazing to me that the council used council tax payers’ money to fight us.”
Rebecca Chapman of Ridley & Hall Solicitors said:
“We are strongly encouraged to try all alternative methods to resolve a case before taking it to court. Unfortunately in this case the alternative methods, such as the complaint system and review by the Local Government Ombudsman, proved to be ineffective.
“The need to pursue the alternative methods caused a long delay to E receiving the support that she requires. It is also unfortunate that due to the current case law, E has been penalised for the delay as the fostering allowance was only backdated until 3 months before proceedings were issued. The Council have got away with 5 years of payments. My clients have lost out on over £25,000.
“Although I am pleased that a fostering allowance will now be paid to meet E’s needs I believe it is unfair that even though Mr and Mrs P raised their concerns at the time they have been penalised for not bringing proceedings quickly enough, particularly when they have been encouraged to go down the complaints route and Ombudsman prior to commencing legal proceedings.”
If you require any further information about this case please contact Rebecca Chapman at Ridley & Hall Solicitors on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.