Category Archives: Grandparents rights

Battling Northamptonshire grandmother secures pay out for unpaid allowances

Helen Jarvis

Helen Jarvis – Grandparents Legal centre

A Northamptonshire grandmother has won her long standing 3 year battle against Northamptonshire County Council to get money to help her care for her grandson. Northamptonshire have now paid her over £20,000.


The 57 year old grandmother had her 3 year old grandson placed with her in August 2011 by the County Council. Her daughter was admitted to hospital due to a violent relationship.

Despite the professionals involved in the case admitting on numerous occasions in 2012 that the child should be classed as ‘Looked After’ and that the grandmother should be provided with financial support, no support was forthcoming. Commenting the grandmother who cannot be named for legal reasons said

“I had made numerous requests to Social Services. I never anticipated having to care for my grandson. I’d thought the days of being a parent were over.

I found it really hard to make ends meet. Things had become so desperate for me that I even had to resort to selling some of my jewellery in 2013 in order to buy my grandson a Christmas present. Up to then having the money to buy him a present was something I had taken for granted.”

Helen Jarvis, a specialist at the Grandparents Legal Centre in Huddersfield commented “I was shocked at the position my client was in. An initial letter was sent on 7th February 2014. It took the County Council almost two months to respond confirming the child is a ‘Looked After’ child. This means that the County Council must financially support the child. He should have been classed as one since he was placed with my client. It was not until three years after the child came to live with his grandmother on 3rd May 2014 when Northamptonshire finally agreed a figure which was to be paid to my client as back pay.

“The Local Authority was clearly sidestepping its duties towards my client and her grandson which resulted in my client being in a dire financial situation. This is completely unacceptable. My client should have been receiving £139.79 per week in fostering allowances from the day her grandson was placed in her care.

Had they assessed her as a foster carer there was also the possibility to her receiving additional allowances after completing training courses. She missed out on these opportunities. Had my client not been willing to suffer such financial hardship in order to care for her grandson, it would have cost the Local Authority substantially more if he had been placed with professional foster carers”.

The grandmother commented “I cannot thank Helen Jarvis from Ridley & Hall solicitors enough! After spending years battling with Social Services, I needed specialist advice. I finally sought advice from the Grandparents Legal Centre. Their professional advice and the quality of service was excellent.

Helen has managed to get the Local Authority to admit my grandson is a ‘Looked After’ child. They are going to pay me a weekly allowance plus a backdated payment to cover the last 3 years.

Helen has kept me updated every step of the way and I am absolutely delighted with the result”.

To get in touch with Grandparents Legal Centre, please call 0843 2897130 or email

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.

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.

Tick Tock – The Time is Now for Family Members

“There is no time like the present” is an old saying but it could not be more appropriate for family and friends carers and the support groups that work with them.

Frequently when local authorities issue care proceedings, there has been reluctance by family members to put themselves forward as carers in the early stages of the case.

This can be for a variety of reasons. Often it is due to grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends not being aware of the seriousness of the situation. They don’t want to undermine the parents’ chances of resuming the care of the child. The impact has been that family members have come forward at the later  stages of a case when they realise that the child may be heading for adoption or long term fostering. This has led to final decisions in where a child should live being delayed.

However, from October 2013 the government’s Public Law Outline pilot scheme was implemented nationally. Cases will be expected to be completed within a strict 26 week time period.

The implications for family members is that by the 12th day after an application by a local authority for either a care or supervision order has been made,  parents must have nominated alternative family and friend carers so the case can be fully timetabled.  If family members are not nominated by this date then there is a real likelihood that they will not be considered, unless in the most exceptional of cases.

Grandparents and other family members must act quickly to make sure they are going to be considered as carers. Family members can no longer take a back seat and see how the parents do prior to coming forward as in doing so may mean they are not assessed and their grandchild, niece/nephew is placed outside the family.

Commenting, James Cook, Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors said “They urgently need expert legal advice. Family and friends carers play a significant role in the care of children. The Public Law Outline timetable is tough. And with courts making clear that every avenue of care must be explored before they will support a plan for adoption, it’s vital that kinship carers and those who work with them act quickly.”

For more information on the Public Law Outline, please phone 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Care department.

Nigel Priestley wins Legal Champion of the Year

We are delighted to announce that Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors has won Legal Champion of the Year at the Inaugural Kinship Care Awards.

Nigel Priestley and Kathy Ashley, Family Rights Group

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus commented “Nigel Priestley recently won Legal Champion of the Year at the Inaugural Kinship Care Awards that we hosted jointly with Neil Stewart Associates.  He won because he is the country’s recognised leading legal advocated for grandparents and other family members who are in the position of having to raise a child who can no longer live with their parents, and who then often find they face the additional battle of having to challenge their local authority.”

“Nigel doesn’t just win cases for individual grandparents – important though that is – but the cases he is bringing have an impact far beyond that case and effectively change policy and practice for others as local authorities start to adjust what they do in light of his victories in order to avoid a legal challenge themselves.”

For further information contact Nigel Priestley on 01484 538 421.

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.

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.