A HUDDERSFIELD solicitor has won a major financial victory for a grandmother who cares full-time for her grandchildren.
The 62-year-old had battled with Herefordshire County Council to be paid the same rate as a foster carer for looking after her grandchildren aged eight and four.
After help from Nigel Priestley – senior partner of Ridley And Hall in Huddersfield – she has now reached a settlement with the council.
The woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – fought for the right to be paid fairly for looking after her two grandchildren since she took over their care. The children were placed with her after a court decided that they could not be brought up by their parents.
The grandmother had to give up full-time work to care for the children and help them to recover from a difficult early upbringing.
But she was only paid the basic fostering allowance.
She explained: “For children of the age that I am looking after, Herefordshire County Council pay £69.69 per week, which is considerably less than the recommended basic rates.
“The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ national minimum fostering allowance for England in 2007/2008 is £102 per week.
“The rate recommended by the Fostering Network, which is used by many Local Authorities, is £121.68 per week. Herefordshire is, therefore, paying almost half of the recommended amount. Herefordshire appears to address this shortfall for paid foster carers with an additional allowances scheme, but I received nothing for that.’’
She added: “It was necessary for me to take early retirement from my career to meet the significant needs of the children. I was already caring for the two children’s older sister. I was not aware that my fees for this grandchild – whom I had fostered for 10 years – were any different to any other foster carers.
“I believed that the council would set allowances to meet the needs of all children. It came as a real surprise to me to realise that the allowances that I and other kinship carers receive are much less than other carers.
“In order for me to safely accommodate the children I went to considerable expense modifying my house. Obviously, since the children came to live with me, all my expenses have gone up.’’
Herefordshire County Council has now agreed that she will receive the same support as other foster carers. She is going to be paid an extra £112 per week for each of the two youngest children on top of the £69.69 she was already receiving.’’
The county council will also be paying a five figure sum in back-payment to the grandmother.
She will be receiving more than £10,000 per year extra to help her care for these damaged children.
Ridley And Hall specialises in fighting cases for grandparents and kinship carers – people who look after the children of family members.
Mr Priestley said: “I am delighted with the outcome. It should not be necessary for kinship carers to have to seek legal advice. Herefordshire’s level of fostering allowance is scandalously low.
“The Fostering Allowance is supposed to cover the cost of caring for a child and many local authorities rely upon the Fostering Network to guide them as to the money they should pay.
“Herefordshire are paying almost half the recommended amount. I am sure that bringing up a child in Herefordshire does not cost half the amount that it does in surrounding local authorities.”
Mr Priestley added: “Unfortunately, this grandmother’s situation is not unusual. I work closely with the Grandparents’ Association and because of the shortage of foster carers, kinship carers are increasingly being used. However, local authorities are not supporting them.”
He added “Grandparents should not have to find themselves battling with local authorities for support. I hope that Herefordshire Council will now review the payments made to foster carers to bring them up to a national standard.’’
Julia Chesterman, welfare benefits adviser with the Grandparents’ Association, said: “Unfortunately, this is all too common. It is the norm for grandparents to be given no help at all.”
She added: “I want to see grandparents offered the same support as those who look after children in care as they are struggling to cope financially while living on a pension and bringing up the children.’’