Gary Vaux explains the preparations needed for the Children
(Leaving Care) Act 2000.
The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 is almost upon us and yet
many social services departments are still far from ready. What
needs to be in place before October?
Well, the Department of Health guidance for a start. Held up by
the election, the guidance is long overdue.
But social services departments could at least be getting
themselves ready for the transfer of financial responsibility to
themselves from social security.
The most pressing concern is that unless Benefits Agency and
Employment Service staff at the local level have clear and accurate
information about benefit eligibility criteria, the assumption will
be that all 16 to 17-year-olds who have been in care or are still
in care can’t get benefit. Therefore, liaison with your local
Benefits Agency and Employment Service (or Job Centre Plus, as it
is being rebranded in 50 pilot areas) is essential. You need to
make sure that they know whom you are responsible for and whom they
should still be helping. You must ensure that there are named staff
in each organisation to act as liaison for individual and policy
In order to avoid young people being shuffled between the
benefit system and social services departments, all staff will need
to know exactly who is covered by the Children (Leaving Care) Act
2000. For example, anyone who has left care by October 2001 will
not fall under the provisions of the act and will not, therefore,
lose their benefit entitlements. However, if a young person were to
return to care after October 2001 they would qualify for help under
the act and would therefore lose benefit entitlements that they
would not subsequently regain leaving care for the second time
(until they reach 18).
According to the DoH, any child who has lived with a person
falling within section 23(4) of the act for a continuous period of
six months or more, is not to be a relevant child despite falling
within section 23A(2). This means that young people who have been
in care but then returned home will not be covered by the new
financial arrangements. They will still have benefit
Benefits Agency and Employment Service staff will have to ask
every 16 to 17-year-old claimant at least three additional
– Have you been in care for more than 13 weeks since your 14th
– Were you in care when you were 16?
– Have you lived with your family or some other person acting in
place of your parents continuously for six months or more since
going into care?
The young person may not know whether they were officially in
care or not, or when, or for how long. You will therefore have to
equip them with this information before they make their benefit
Specifically, you need to be addressing the training needs of
your own staff. Knowing who is disabled and therefore still
eligible for benefits could save your authority a lot of money.
You also need to address very practical issues such as:
– What are your criteria for leaving care grants and how much
will be paid?
– What sanctions and rewards will you be prepared to use?
– How will you make and monitor rent payments?
– How will you actually make payments? (a little tip –
investigate basic bank accounts).
So, just three months to go and still a lot of work to be done.
The act was introduced because of the perceived failure of social
services departments to care for young people – it would be doubly
ironic if the implementation was jeopardised by central government
and local authority inertia.