Section 17 and Financial Support for Children and Families
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter sets out the circumstances in which the provision of financial support to children in need and their families can be appropriate. It also describes the delegated authority for authorising such payments.
Please see separate procedures regarding Homeless 16 and 17 Year Olds Procedure and Families with No Recourse to Public Funds Procedure.
Please note that as from April 1st 2013 Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans will cease to exist. A new Hertfordshire Welfare Assistance Scheme will be in place, which will be launched with a communications strategy.
Section 5, Intentionally Homeless Families was substantially revised in September 2014 in respect of 16 & 17 year olds and regarding the provision of assistance to secure or maintain tenancies.This chapter is currently under review.
1. Legal Framework
Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (s17) defines the duties of a local authority in safeguarding and promoting the general welfare of a child in need and her/his family within their area.
Assistance given to families under S17 includes financial assistance. Any S17 payment must be a grant, not a loan.
S17 payments are ignored by the Department for Work and Pensions as income in all circumstances except when a crisis loan is being considered. Therefore, S17 payments will not reduce any weekly means-tested benefit payments (including Housing and Council Tax Benefit).
It is the Children's Safeguarding & Specialist Service's policy that financial support and assistance that is provided under the Children Act 1989 should be supplementary to the benefit system and not an alternative to it. Children's Services is not an income maintenance agency.
It is therefore vitally important that steps are taken to maximise benefit income and rectify administrative problems if these are giving rise to demand on Children's Services funds.
This would include use of, where appropriate:
- The Social Fund (crisis loans, budgeting grants and community care grants especially for families under stress);
- Income Support, JSA and Housing Benefit (on interim or statutory basis);
- Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit (including help with child care costs);
- Guardian's Allowance for people caring for bereaved children;
- Housing Benefit and/or discretionary housing payments;
- Council Tax benefit and discounts;
- National Insurance benefits (such as Incapacity Benefit and Maternity Allowance);
- Non-contributory benefits such as Child Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance;
- Care to Learn funding;
- The appeal and review systems of all of the above.
Entitlement to all of the above can be established by contacting the Money Advice Unit (MAU) who can also provide initial advice on matters related to debt (such as use of bailiffs, administration orders, bankruptcy etc.). Contact details on Compass.
The MAU can also advise as to possible solutions to administrative and procedural problems such as non-arrival of benefit payments, recovery of alleged overpayments, benefit suspensions due to fraud investigation etc. This may include supplying contact details for liaison staff in the relevant benefit-paying agencies.
Staff also need to be mindful as to whether the costs of the service required should rightly be met by the Health Authority or Educational Services.
Where the parent is receiving a service from Health & Community Services (HCS) or Herts Foundation Partnership Trust (HFPT) the Cross Service Protocol (HCS641) should be referred to as funding for some services which are required due to incapacity to parent should be met by HCS.
3. Links with the Benefits System - when to Contact the Money Advice Unit
Children's Services requires that consideration is given to using the benefit system to provide financial support before expenditure under the Children Act is authorised.
The Money Advice Unit (MAU) must be contacted (details on Compass) for advice in the following circumstances:
- When a service user requests financial assistance because of a failure of arrival of social security benefits or tax credits (The Money Advice Unit has regular liaison with local Job Centre Plus and Housing Benefit offices and needs to know if administrative or procedural failures are leading to Children Act expenditure);
- When the service user has been denied benefits because of her/his immigration status, particularly if Job Centre Plus staff are claiming that the person is not 'habitually resident' in the UK or the person has 'no recourse to public funds' as a condition of their stay in the UK;
- If a young person is being Accommodated under S20, in independent living or is being financially supported under S24. (The benefit position of young people and care leavers is often complex and the Money Advice Unit will give detailed advice in individual cases);
- If a service user is requesting assistance with a one-off item of expenditure and is in receipt of Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. (The Money Advice Unit can advise as to whether a Social Fund grant may be available);
- Where a child with a disability is approaching her/his 16th birthday and, Looked After or not, advice is required in relation to benefits;
- Where a service user is requesting financial assistance in order to provide care for a child as an alternative to that child being looked after. The Money Advice Unit can advise as to the impact of payments being made under S17 Children Act or as a Child Arrangements Order Allowance or Special Guardianship Allowance.
CS& SS is not fundamentally a long-term income maintenance agency and whilst interim arrangements can be made, these need to be time limited.
The MAU produces a guide to benefits for people who foster or adopt, which also covers informal or family and friend carers. This is available on the Money Advice Factsheets Page, along with other benefit guides for families, children with disabilities, pregnant women, carers and young people and the current rates of benefit and tax credits.
4. Procedure for Authorising and Making Payments
It is difficult to give precise figures to cover all circumstances but, in situations where the customer has no access to other sources of income, payments should be no greater than the current Income Support levels.
Cash should only be given in exceptional circumstances; consideration should be given to store vouchers, direct provision of equipment etc.
The authority to make payments is listed in the Scheme of Delegation to Officers Procedure which includes the following:
- Team Manager up to £50 per service user per year;
- Services Manager up to £500 per service user per year;
- Head of Service up to £10,000 per family per year (for families with no recourse to public funds - (see Families with No Recourse to Public Funds Procedure);
- Director of Safeguarding or Director of Specialist Services to be consulted about amounts above this limit.
To monitor S17 payments to a family, a monitoring sheet must be attached to each record. The Social Worker must complete an S17 form and place this on the case record.
5. Support to Intentionally Homeless Families
5.1 16 and 17 Year Olds
This gives details of how all the Local Authority Housing Departments, Children's Services, YC Hertfordshire and Voluntary Organisations will work together in a co-ordinated manner to ensure that the needs of intentionally homeless families are assessed and responded to appropriately.
5.2 Children Services Acting as Rent Guarantor or Providing Financial Support to Secure or Maintain Tenancies
It can be increasingly difficult for low income families to secure rental properties. Children Services often work with families who have significant rent arrears or have been deemed intentionally homeless, and there are concerns that this may impact on the parenting they are able to provide for their children. Most recently, there are also concerns arising that the DWP is no longer providing crisis loans, and no applications are being processed as an emergency.
This has led to requests for Children Services to pay rents; to top up rents; to fund 1st month rent and deposit to secure a tenancy; and to act as rent guarantors for properties.
Under Section 17 of the Children Act, we are able to provide some level of financial assistance for families in relation to housing if this is assessed to be appropriate, but this cannot be reclaimed. There are certain categories where we may make payments e.g.:
- Rental payments for families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF);
- 1st month rent and deposit for intentionally homeless families;
but these must be carefully assessed, both in social work and financial terms, and authorised by the relevant Head of Service before being progressed.
Rent top ups or acting as rent guarantors for individuals will not be agreed under any circumstances. If the family cannot afford the rent in the area of their choice, they may need to re-locate to an area of Hertfordshire or beyond that is within their means. Any issues with progressing tenancies for service users because of this veto should be brought to the attention of the relevant Head of Service, and other options considered.
If a member of staff feels that exceptional circumstances apply to a service user that they are working with, then this should also be brought to the attention of his or her Head of Service, and a way forward agreed.