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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 16th November, 2011

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Social and Care Services

 

Implementing the National Minimum Maintenance Allowances for Foster Carers in the Vale of Glamorgan

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To secure Cabinet approval for implementing the Welsh Government's recommended National Minimum Maintenance Allowances for foster carers.

Recommendations

1.             That Cabinet notes the content of this report.

2.             That Cabinet approves implementing the recommended National Minimum Allowances for foster carers and Special Guardianship Order carers, effective from 1st January, 2012.

3.             That Cabinet approves back payments to existing carers for placements made during the period 1st April, 2011 to 31st December, 2011 in accordance with the levels set in the statutory guidance.

4.             That Cabinet approves a revision of existing policy and procedures in respect of carers of children subject to Residence Orders (ROs) to maintain the current levels of payment (i.e. at 2009/10 rates).

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.             To ensure that Cabinet is aware of the new statutory guidance and the financial implications for the Council of implementing the guidance.

2, 3 and 4.  To ensure that the Council's responsibilities in relation to National Minimum

                    Maintenance Allowances for Foster Carers are fully met, in accordance with

                    the guidance.

 

Background

2.             Between November 2006 and March 2007, the Welsh Assembly Government consulted foster carers, foster care agencies and local authorities about national minimum fostering allowances.  Because the consultation process proved inconclusive, the Welsh Assembly Government commissioned a research exercise and the report was used as the basis for Circular 005/2011, issued in February 2011.  This statutory guidance set out the recommended national minimum maintenance allowances for foster carers across Wales, to be implemented from April 2011.  It does not apply to the professional fees paid to foster carers.  The Welsh Assembly Government refused to heed a considerable number of representations about the timing of such a statutory instruction, given that local authority budgets had already been set for 2011/12.

Relevant Issues and Options

3.             The Welsh Government Guidance is contained in Circular 005/2011.  The recommended National Minimum Allowance (NMA) is a term used by the Welsh Government to describe the basic core allowance that foster carers receive for looking after a child.  It is intended to set a benchmark for payment rates to all foster carers.  Introducing the NMA is intended to provide a safeguard for foster carers and the guidance states that it should be applied to all foster carers, including approved carers who are friends or family (i.e. kinship carers assessed and approved by the Vale of Glamorgan Fostering Panel).

4.             The guidance clearly states that, while variations in allowance levels can continue above the recommended national minimum rate, local authorities should not lower their existing allowance rates in response to its implementation.

5.             The national recommended minimum allowance for each age band for 2011/12 is as follows:

·               0-4 years    £140 per week

·               5-15 years  £127 per week (this covers two age bands currently used by this Council)

·               16+ years   £159 per week.

6.             The minimum allowance is intended to cover the everyday and regular expenses associated with caring for a foster child.  These include:

·               food - including meals out;

·               clothes;

·               utility costs;

·               toiletries;

·               routine travel costs involved with everyday activities (including schooling, social/leisure activities and contact visits);

·               holiday travel and accommodation costs whether home or abroad (including spending money for holidays in the UK but not for holidays abroad);

·               miscellaneous costs associated with social and leisure activities (including school trips, toys and electronic entertainment);

·               household insurance premiums; and

·               costs associated with general wear and tear and repair of household items, furnishings and linen.

7.             Currently, foster carer allowances in the Vale of Glamorgan consist of a basic weekly allowance, which includes pocket money.  Separate payments are made for clothing (on a quarterly basis), holidays, birthdays and Christmas.  In addition, a weekly nappy allowance is paid for children under three years of age, an initial clothing allowance is paid when a child becomes looked after and foster carers claim expenses for mileage.  As a result, payments can be cumbersome to administer.  The implementation of a standardised weekly rate across all carers would improve efficiency in administering financial systems.

8.             Historically, the allowances paid to foster carers varied considerably across Wales and so the financial implications of implementing the national minimum allowance rates will also be different for each local authority.  The Vale of Glamorgan has historically operated one of the lower average rates of allowance payments in Wales.  In 2010/2011, with an investment of £60k additional funding, foster carer allowances were increased by 5% across all age bands in order to narrow this gap.  The projected costs of implementing the NMA are in addition to this investment already made.

9.             Local implementation of the statutory guidance has been discussed with key officers and representatives of the Foster Carer Forum.

10.        Given the costs which the NMA is intended to cover, as outlined at paragraph 6 above, the separate payments currently paid by the Council needed to be aggregated into a weekly payment in order to identify any difference between current payment levels and the new minimum rates.  The details of these calculations are contained in the following table.

Weekly Foster Carer Allowances

0-4 yrs

£

5-10 yrs

£

11-15 yrs

£

16+ yrs

£

Basic Allowance, including  pocket money

 

76.16

85.72

107.22

136.42

Holiday Allowance

 

3.31

3.77

4.70

5.80

Clothing Allowance

 

9.50

11.87

14.25

13.79

Nappy Allowance

 

7.74

0

0

0

Birthday Allowance

 

1.66

1.89

2.35

2.90

Christmas Allowance

 

1.66

1.89

2.35

2.90

Current weekly allowance

100.03

105.14

130.87

161.81

Recommended NMA weekly

 maintenance allowance

140.00

127.00

127.00

159.00

Difference for the Vale of Glamorgan

Increase of

£39.97

Increase

Of

£21.86

No

change

No

change

 

11.        The impact of implementing the NMA is detailed in the following table.

 

Weekly Allowances

0-4 yrs    

5-10 yrs

         

11-15 yrs

         

16+ yrs   

Total

Number of children

46

34

42

17

139

Proposed weekly increase

£39.97

£21.86

No Change

No Change

 

Annual cost to the Council of proposed increase

£95,608

£38,648

£0

£0

£134,256

 

12.        Although the Welsh Government intended that the new allowances should be implemented from April 2011, it was important that Vale foster carers were involved in discussions about how the guidance would be applied.  Given the resulting delay in implementation, it is proposed that the new rates will be implemented fully from 1st January 2012 and that Cabinet approves back payments to existing carers for placements made during the period 1st April 2011 to 31st December 2011 in accordance with the levels set in the statutory guidance.

13.        Every local authority must make arrangements for the provision of a range of special guardianship support services (which includes financial support payable under Special Guardianship Regulations), where it has been assessed that there is eligibility for such services and that such services are required.  A legal ruling in the High Court (B -v- Lewisham London Borough Council) determined that under the relevant regulations in England there should be a close association between payments to special guardians and those to foster carers. The intent of the legislation and regulations is that financial support should be made available to special guardians to ensure that financial obstacles do not prevent people from taking on the role.  There are currently 14 children and young people in the Vale of Glamorgan subject of SGOs and receiving allowance payments.  The projected cost of applying the NMA to these carers is detailed in the table below.

 

SGOs

0-4 yrs

£

5-10 yrs

£

11-15 yrs

£

16+ yrs

£

 

Current weekly allowance

 

88.97

101.36

126.17

156.01

WG recommended weekly allowance

140.00

127.00

127.00

159.00

Difference for the Vale of Glamorgan

Increase of £51.03

Increase of £25.64

Increase of £0.83

Increase of £2.99

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

Number of children

 

4

9

0

1

14

Proposed weekly increase

 

£51.03

£25.64

£0.83

£2.99

 

Annual cost to the Council of proposed increase

£10,614

£11,999

£0

£155

£22,768

 

14.        Historically, carers of children subject to Residence Orders (ROs) have been paid allowances based on the current fostering allowance rate,s where the local authority has  supported the arrangements made by the parents as an alternative to the child being looked after,.  All applications for RO allowances are means-tested (taking into account household income and Child Benefit payments) and so the actual rates payable can vary considerably from carer to carer.  Because of budget constraints this year, the RO allowance rates have been frozen at the 2009/10 level while the implications of NMA were being considered. 

15.        As RO allowances are discretionary, the Council can approve a revision of existing policy and procedure either to maintain the current levels of payment (i.e. at 2009/10 rates) or to apply the NMA.  Based on a worst case scenario without reductions for means testing, the projected cost of applying the NMA would be an additional £66k per annum.  These costs are outlined in the following table.

 

RESIDENCE ORDERS

0-4 yrs

£

5-10 yrs

£

11-15 yrs

£

16+ yrs

£

 

Current weekly allowance

(2009/10 rates)

85.05

97.11

120.83

128.94

WG recommended weekly allowance for foster carers

140.00

127.00

127.00

159.00

Difference for the Vale of Glamorgan

Increase of £54.95

Increase of £29.89

Increase of £6.17

Increase of £30.06

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

Number of children

 

5

26

22

3

56

Annual cost to the Council of increase to NMA level

£14,287

£40,411

£7,058

£4,689

£66,445

 

16.        The statutory guidance is clear in respect of implementing the NMA for foster carers (including kinship carers) and there is specific case law in favour of linking fostering allowance  to carers with Special Guardianship Orders.  Although it might be regarded as best practice to continue linking Residence Order allowances to the agreed fostering allowance rates, officers feel unable to recommend this course of action at present because of current financial constraints and pressures.  There is an unavoidable risk that this might deter some carers from using Residence Orders as a means of achieving permanence for some children who are looked after by the Council.  The matter can be kept under review and any challenge to the Council's position by carers will be reported to Cabinet.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

17.        The total annual cost to the Council of implementing the recommended NMA in accordance with statutory guidance and case law is £157k.  Because the statutory guidance was issued suddenly and belatedly, no provision for implementing the national minimum maintenance allowance was made in the budget planning for the current financial year.  Therefore, meeting the commitments set out in this report will result in a corresponding overspend for the Children and Young People Services division in respect of its Looked After Children budget.  As outlined in a separate report to Cabinet, this budget is already under severe pressure and approval is being sought for a budget recovery action plan.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

18.        The Welsh Government guidance contained in Circular 005/2011 is issued under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.  This statutory guidance sets out the recommended National Minimum Maintenance Allowance for all foster carers including foster carers who are friends of the child and short break or respite carers.  There is a requirement for the Council to implement the National Minimum Allowance from 1st April 2011.  

19.        Special guardian provisions were introduced by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 with the aim of placing a child through a private law order with a non-parent with a degree of permanence, which is greater than a simple Residence Order but less final than a Full Adoption Order.  The main features of special guardianship are to:

·               give the carer clear responsibility for all aspects of caring for the child or young person and for making the decisions concerning their upbringing;

·               provide a firm foundation on which to build a life long permanent relationship between the carer and the child or young person;

·               preserve the legal link between the child or young person and their birth family; and

·               allow proper access to a full range of support services including, where appropriate, financial support.

Crime and Disorder Implications

20.        There are no direct crime and disorder implications arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

21.        Section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010 has replaced and incorporated the Race Relations Act 1976, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1975.  A public authority in the exercise of its functions must give due regard to requirements set out in this legislation.

22.        An Equality Impact Assessment has been undertaken in respect of the revised policy to ensure that all service users are considered equally and there is no adverse effect on any group of people within the community.  No adverse impact has been identified and this policy has been assessed as compliant with anti-discrimination regulations.

Corporate/Service Objectives

23.        Implementing the recommended national minimum maintenance allowances for foster carers will contribute to the corporate priority of "working with partners to meet the diverse needs of our residents in ways that will safeguard and support those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need; help people to keep fit and healthy; and increase social cohesion and equality of opportunity for all".

Policy Framework and Budget

24.        This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

25.        There are no implications for individual Wards as a direct result of this report.  The proposals have been shared with and considered by the Vale of Glamorgan Foster Carers Forum.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

Social Care and Health.

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer

Colette Limbrick, Operational Manager, Children and Young People Services

Gareth Jenkins, Head of Children and Young People Services

 

Officers Consulted

Carolyn Michael, Senior Group Accountant

John Lewis, Senior Lawyer, Community Services

 

Responsible Officer:

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services