Proposed changes to allowances paid to Special Guardians, Child Arrangement / Residence Order holder

Consultation on: Proposed changes by the introduction of a financial means test to be applied to the allowances paid to Special Guardians, Child Arrangement Order/RO holders and Adopters. 

Summary: The consultation sets out proposals it is considering to define the criteria which will be used to means test allowances.

Deadline: All responses must be received by 5pm on the 15 July 2019
Dudley Council proposes that the financial situation of all guardians, carers and adopters are assessed against a proposed new means test assessment to ensure allowances are only paid to those who do not have sufficient disposable household income which is the equivalent of the current fostering maintenance amount for a child in care of the same age.

Please complete the questionnaire after reading each proposal which is being considered to form the criteria for means testing.
Household Income

Household is defined as you and (if appropriate) your partner and all children or young people living in your household that you (or your partner) are responsible for. This includes new partners who may not be named on the court order but who live with you. This does not include others over the age of 18 unless it is the child’s parent in which case they will be included in the household calculations.

It is proposed 100% of household income will be included in the assessment. This includes all salaries, all other sources of net income and all state benefits received for all members of the household. Where eligibility to acquire other state benefits is fulfilled the claimant must apply for those benefits, failure to do so would still result in those benefits being included as if they are claimed.

Any declaration of income must include evidence supplied by the claimant clearly documenting money received.

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* 1. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to include all income available to the household as set out above?

Other Sources of Income

Redundancy & Inheritance Payments

Lump sum amounts received because of redundancy or by way of an inheritance will be excluded from the means testing and will not be treated as an income.

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* 2. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Gambling

Any profit from gambling, e.g. lottery wins over £1,000 must be declared and will be treated as an income (the sum will be divided by 12 to give a monthly amount for the year of review).

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* 3. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Savings

If the balance of savings precludes access to benefits that the claimant would otherwise be entitled to claim Dudley Council will treat the income as if those benefits had been claimed until such time as the savings reduce to enable the acquisition of those benefits.

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* 4. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Any interest from savings will be used as available income.

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* 5. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Net income from letting property and dividends from a limited company will be used as available income

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* 6. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

When a parent of the child Dudley pay an allowance for resides in the same household their income will be treated as part of the overall available income to the household. They will also be included in the household expenditure calculation.

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* 7. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Household Expenditure

It is proposed the following expenditure will be included in the means testing of allowances.

Housing Costs

Mortgage payments and rental payments made for the property the child and claimant reside in will be deducted from the household income figure

Council tax payments for the property the child and claimant reside in will be deducted from the household income.

These are the figures after any Housing Benefit/Universal Credit is applied, reflecting the actual amount the claimant pays.

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* 8. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to exclude housing costs as set out above?

Household Expenses

This will be calculated as the same amount set by government as the basic amount required to live on and is the starting point for calculating Income Support and can be found at www.gov.uk. This amount includes expenditure on food, clothing, utilities, fuel etc. and each household member will have the equivalent Income Support amount available to them. If there is regular expenditure or a one off expense because of a disability this will be considered on a case by case basis.

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* 9. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to calculate your household expenses as set as above?

Loans/Debt

No new re-mortgages or secured borrowing against the main residence or a let property will be allowed (unless agreed prior and used only for essential work to maintain the home’s integrity or an extension required to meet the needs of the child. Definition of integrity – essential works. i.e. what a landlord’s obligation would be if the property were rented or covered by a service charge e.g. windows replaced/electrics/plumbing etc).

Unsecured loans will be considered if the same criteria are met for secured borrowing as described above.

Existing unsecured loans/debt will not be included as an essential expenditure.

Any declaration of applicable expenditure must include evidence supplied by the claimant clearly documenting money paid out. A loan may not be used for any other purposes so must only be for the amount to cover costs as set out above.

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* 10. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to only include expenditure linked to a loan or debt as set as above?

Childcare Costs

Childcare costs paid to registered childcare providers to enable employment will be included as an expenditure. This will not be considered if there is a non-employed guardian, carer, adopter or partner.

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* 11. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Court Orders

Court orders relating to fines, debt or child maintenance payments will be included as an expenditure. This will include IVAs.

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* 12. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Private Pension Payments

For overpayments on private pensions the same amount as allowed by the Inland Revenue will be considered as an expenditure. If a claimant wishes to pay more this extra is not treated as a relevant outgoing.

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* 13.  Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

 Proposed Changes Specifically for Former Connected Carers and Previous Foster Carers

If the child was “Looked After” (a child in care subject to a Care Order) the maintenance component of the allowance you receive will be means tested by deducting benefits you receive, or are eligible to receive, for the child you claim an allowance for. Two years after the making of the SGO the fee element, if applicable, will cease and the maintenance component will be means tested by applying the full means test criteria to household income and expenditure. If you were a Connected Carer but the child was not previously “Looked After” the full means test criteria will be applied once the SGO is granted.  

These changes will not apply if you have an exceptional agreement setting out your allowance will not be reviewed (e.g. a fixed amount).

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* 14.  Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Review Process

It is proposed that financial reviews will be completed on every allowance whenever there is a change of circumstance and as a minimum each financial year. There will be 28 days written notice given to the claimants to notify them of the need to provide financial evidence to enable the completion of the review of their allowance. If insufficient supporting evidence is received the allowance will be suspended until this is received. Once the outstanding evidence is received the allowance will be reinstated. If the supporting evidence is not received within 12 weeks of the original request the claimant’s entitlement to any backdate concludes. Upon subsequent receipt of the evidence this will be treated as a new claim and payments will commence from the date the evidence was received.

Does this process seem fair and clear?

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* 15. Do you agree or disagree with the review process as set out above?

In order to complete financial means test reviews Dudley Council will ask for supporting evidence which will include, but not exclusively, pay slips, HMRC tax returns, State Benefit letters, 3 months bank statements of every account held by the claimant(s), evidence of mortgage/rent, council tax payments and any other applicable income or expenditure.

We will request copies of the original documents are sent to us and these will be uploaded into the secure computer database used by Dudley’s Children’s Services. This information will be stored for a minimum of 6 years for auditing purposes.

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* 16.  Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

Every claim for an allowance will require the claimant to consent to Dudley Council contacting other agencies to confirm the information provided

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* 17.  Do you agree or disagree with the proposal as set out above?

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* 18. Any other comments you would like to make?

This consultation will close at 5pm on the 15 July 2019

We will collate, analyse and consider all consultation responses and use the information provided as part of the decision making process.

A consultation report will then be published on the Council’s website.

Should you have any questions regarding this proposal please email siobhan.hamilton@dudley.gov.uk
 

Thank you for the time you have taken to complete this questionnaire.
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