Councils mount challenge to care proceedings cost switch

Four councils will challenge the government’s decision to make authorities bear the full costs of care proceedings in England, in a judicial review hearing this month.

Hillingdon, Leeds, Liverpool and Norfolk councils have jointly opposed the policy, which came into force in May. Under it, fees facing councils rose from £150 to as much as £4,825 per case.

The government switched an annual £40m budget for care proceedings from the courts service to councils to meet the increase. But the councils said they were not properly consulted and the money was not allocated according to how many cases authorities dealt with, a point that has also been made by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Case against Straw and Blears

The Law Society and the NSPCC have backed the case against justice secretary Jack Straw and communities secretary Hazel Blears. Chris Spencer, Hillingdon’s children’s director, said the council faced a £100,000 shortfall and warned funding for other children’s services could be put at risk.

“By increasing the cost of these court proceedings and not putting into place a fair allocation system, some local authorities will be out of pocket and the extra costs will ultimately be met by local tax payers,” he said.

Suzanne Bond, chair of the Law Society’s solicitors in local government branch and senior social services lawyer at Hillingdon, said: “Authorities are finding money from other budgets to subsidise costs but recognise they have a statutory duty to fulfil regardless of fees.” She said councils could be compensated if the judicial review was successful.

Care proceedings numbers drop?

Barbara Esam, public policy lawyer for the NSPCC, said there was anecdotal evidence that care proceedings had dropped since the fee rise. “We are worried that councils’ decisions are being influenced by financial factors, leaving children at risk,” she said.

Stewart Golton, executive member for children’s services at Leeds Council, said the authority was facing a shortfall of about £540,000 this year. “We are now considering the potential impact this may have on children in need and their families,” he said.

The judicial review will be heard at the High Court in London from 23 October.

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