Special guardians who claim child tax credits are to have their payments cut by Greenwich Council, which says it is following new guidance laid down by central government.
There are 220 special guardians in Greenwich borough, looking after 303 children. Special guardians are people who look after children who are not their own but take parental responsibility for them.
Jackie Smith, the cabinet member for children’s services, told Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that guidance had said that the child tax credit should be taken off special guardians’ payments. “It’s statutory, we can’t find any other authority that doesn’t do it. Our proposals are just around doing that.
“We have found other authorities with more draconian charging policies. Bexley takes into consideration a child’s disability living allowance if they are in receipt of that – we’re not prepared to do that.”
The Conservative councillor for Eltham North, Spencer Drury said that special guardians had been told of the decision without any discussion with councillors. He said he was grateful that the process had been paused for a full discussion.
Drury said that many of the children looked after by special guardians would otherwise be in council care, costing the council even more money, and that special guardians would have set their budgets assuming they would not have their tax credits deducted from any payments. He added that while all 220 special guardians were consulted, it would only affect 50 of their number, and it was not possible to see how many of the 50 responded or what they thought of the changes.
“When special guardians took on their children, they budgeted using £200 per month which we are proposing to take away,” he said. “For the special guardian I’m speaking to, that’s a reduction if around £530 each month to about £310 – that’s about £2,500 for someone on a low income trying to raise her grandchild alone.”
Drury suggested that the payments should continue until each of the 50 affected guardians had been spoken to by council staff who could assess their needs and decide whether they could be given exceptional payments. “This means no future special guardians will get the payments, but cabinet members can be reassured that nobody will be left in dire financial straights,” he said.
But the cabinet rejected this. Smith said Drury had “heard but chosen not to listen” to evidence at a scrutiny committee on the matter. “The children are not necessarily children that would be received into our care if they did not have special guardians,” she said. “I’m not saying that people are rich, but there are many, many, many children living with families in this borough whose parents only receive tax credits and don’t receive any other form of allowance.
“These children are living in families where tax credits are being paid and there is still an element of special guardianship being paid. So I don’t accept that they are in poverty. We are going to assessments… and we anybody does feel they will be in severe hardship, we will look at that. But we have to move forward, because we have delayed too long.”
When Drury asked if guardians would be assessed, the council’s director of children’s services, Florence Kroll, said that families were assessed annually and had been aware of the change for a year. “It feels we should take that offline to provide further reassurance,” council leader Danny Thorpe said, as the cabinet voted through the change.
The same meeting also saw protests at the way the cabinet handled plans to increase social care charges, with a number of disabled people being initially denied the chance to speak on the issue.
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