Councils could be forced to pay foster carers a minimum allowance

The government is considering making local authorities pay a set
national allowance to carers to cover the costs of fostering

Directors of social services are currently being consulted over the
proposal, which is being considered as part of the Department of
Health’s Choice Protects review of foster care.

The move follows research by the Fostering Network that shows that
more than half of all English councils are paying their foster
carers below recommended rates.

And as a further measure to encourage more people to become foster
carers, it is possible that allowances could be tax-free in the
future while the reimbursement process will be speeded up.

Speaking at the DoH/National Children’s Bureau foster care briefing
last week, Carole Bell, director of children’s trusts and former
director of fostering at the DoH, said any changes needed to make
fostering more attractive and less bureaucratic.

“We need to look at mechanisms for reimbursement to happen more
easily and swiftly as at the moment it can take six months,” she

The Department for Work and Pensions is also considering whether to
let foster care allowances contribute towards a state pension.
Currently, they are not pensionable, leaving many out of pocket
when they retire. “The signs are good,” Bell said.

The consultation is to continue until April, with the government
likely to issue guidance and new policies later in the year. As
part of this some struggling councils will be offered support,
advice and expert help in improving support services to carers,
Bell said.

Fostering Network, which is backing the calls for national
allowances, stated that the current system had created a “post code
lottery” where “children are living on a completely arbitrary basis
depending on which local authority they live in”. The charity
stated it is leaving foster carers out of pocket as they end up
compensating for the shortfall in funding.

The survey of 89 local authorities found that 56 per cent pay less
than the Fostering Network’s minimum recommended weekly allowances
of between £103 for a baby and £187 for over-16s. One
third of councils paid above these levels, but the lowest rate was
less than half that recommended.

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