Gary Vaux answers queries about the new rules
for financial support in the Children (Leaving Care) Act.
The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 has now
been in force for almost two months and yet many social workers are
still getting to grips with the new rules for financial support.
These are some of the queries that have come up so far in England
and Wales (the equivalent legislation is not yet in place for
Who exactly are social services now
responsible for? People who ceased being looked-after on
or after 1 October 2001 and who have been in care for at least 13
weeks since their 14th birthday, and who were in care for at least
a day when aged 16 or 17. Also people who are still being looked
after aged 16 or 17.
What exceptions are there?
Lone parents and young people who are sick or disabled can still
claim income support.
And housing benefit? No, even
those who qualify for income support are barred from housing
What is meant by “sick or
disabled”? Basically, are they medically unfit for work
that week? If so, they can claim income support and do not have to
rely on social services funding. In theory, someone who is
otherwise fit for work but has flu for a week could claim income
support in that week.
How long do our new responsibilities
last? Until young people reach 18. Then they can claim
benefits under the normal rules. If, before then, they return
“home” (to someone who has parental responsibility for them) they
are still outside the benefit system for at least six months.
Does that mean we are supporting some
people who live with their parents? Yes, but the parents
may be able to claim child benefit. If the parents are getting
benefits such as income support or housing benefit, a young person
who is still in education won’t be treated as part of the parent’s
benefit claim until at least six months have gone by or the young
person reaches 18 (whichever comes first). If young people are out
of education, they won’t be able to claim for themselves until six
months have elapsed since returning home. After those six months,
if they are unemployed, they may find it hard to get benefits while
still living at home.
Is the new act retrospective?
No, people who left care before 1 October are still able to access
the benefit system and are not the responsibility of social
Can we help people who left care in
September? Yes, under section 24 of the Children Act 1989.
This help would be additional to anything they get through the
benefit system, not a replacement for it.
Are any other benefits
affected? No, the young person can, and should, still
claim disability living allowance, incapacity benefit and so
How much help should we give?
The Department of Health guidance says that the help must be no
less than the young person would have got through the benefit
What’s the biggest worry?
Mine is that young people will be bounced backwards and forwards
between social services and the Benefits Agency. The Department for
Work and Pensions guidance to Benefits Agency staff says: “It is
important that local offices liaise with the responsible social
services department and have robust procedures in place so that any
questions about who is responsible to meet the needs of the
care-leaver can be resolved quickly.”
For once, I couldn’t agree more.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice,
Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries in person,
either by post or by telephone. If you have a question to be
answered in Welfare Rights, please write to him c/o Community