Liverpool council has been rapped by the Local Government Ombudsman for underpaying hundreds of carers looking after children across the city.
After an investigation, initiated by a woman caring for her nephew who complained she was not being paid the right benefits, the ombudsman found around 340 carers in the Merseyside area had been underpaid for years.
Many missed out on the support and financial payments they would have been entitled to had the council classified them as family and friends foster carers. Instead, the care they provided was often seen as a private arrangement.
Failure to recognise carers’ status
The ombudsman discovered Liverpool council was failing to pay foster carers who look after children aged 0 to four in line with the national minimum fostering allowance, set by the government each year. It was also failing to pay the special guardianship allowance at the same rate as its foster carers.
The authority will now reimburse the woman backdated allowances of £10,912, as well as make backdated payments to hundreds of other carers.
Nigel Ellis, executive director for investigations at the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “It is only fair that [carers] get the benefits and allowances they rightly deserve. These allowances are not pay they are used to clothe and feed the children being looked after.”
“I’m pleased to say that Liverpool City Council has quickly accepted it is at fault and has agreed to backdate the benefits to both the complainant and the 340 other carers affected. I hope this swift response will go some way to alleviate the trouble the underpayment may have caused.”
Warning for other local authorities
He urged other local authorities to look at their own procedures to ensure carers in their areas are not experiencing the same problems as those in Liverpool.
Helen Keaney, of the Fostering Network, praised the council for recognising the problem, accepting the ombudsman’s ruling and implementing remedial action. She warned other local authorities to take heed of the ruling.
“We know there are other authorities that are still not paying the governments national minimum fostering allowance to their foster carers,” she said.
“Fostered children deserve the same standard of living wherever they happen to be in care, and no foster carers should be out of pocket as a result of fostering. We urge these local authorities to look again and to ensure their allowances meet the government’s expectations.”