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Mr N was a looked after child with Bridgend County Borough Council (“the Council”) and placed with his former foster carers Mr and Mrs A when he was a toddler. The placement lasted many years but broke down in 2014. Mr N subsequently approached the Council to obtain further information about savings that Mr and Mrs A had made on his behalf. Mr N complained that:

• the Council had not managed his savings properly and in accordance with its policy.
• some of his savings were used, without consultation with him, to pay for trips for which he should have received a special allowance.
• the savings he received in January 2015 were substantially less than he believed they should have been.

My investigation related to the actions of the Council and not the foster carers. I found evidence that the Council was inconsistent and contradictory in the way it applied its internal guidance for foster carers in its Fostering Handbook. Some of its guidance it enforced whilst others, like saving for looked after children, it did not. This was despite regulatory guidance that foster carers are expected, amongst other matters, to operate within the guidance set out in the Fostering Handbook.

As a corporate parent for a looked after child, a council has a duty to ensure that there is adequate oversight and monitoring of savings that are made on behalf of the looked after child/ren (“LAC”). However, in Mr N’s case I found the Council’s monitoring of his savings both intermittent and inadequate. I concluded that these administrative failings amounted to maladministration and upheld this aspect of Mr N’s complaint.

The Council was unable to provide evidence to show that Mr N was consulted or agreed to the use of his savings to pay for two trips which cost in total £1100. The Council agreed to fund one of the trips at a LAC review meeting in 2014, but later changed its view without notifying the Chair of the review meeting. Once again I found evidence of maladministration and upheld this element of Mr N’s complaint.
In relation to the third element of Mr N’s complaint, as the Council had failed to keep adequate records or retain his saving books at the end of his fostering placement, it was unclear why Mr N’s savings were as low as they were. I determined that the failings that led to this position amounted to maladministration and upheld this aspect of Mr N’s complaint.

I reached the view that as a result of the Council’s maladministration, it could not properly account to Mr N for his savings which caused him an injustice. I calculated a figure for appropriate recompense for Mr N. The Council challenged the figure arrived at, on the grounds that Mr N would have agreed other expenditure from his savings, without evidence that this was the case. I have been minded therefore to give the benefit of the doubt to Mr N, the more vulnerable party.

Mr N’s case raises important issues about LAC and their savings at a local, regional and national level. It is therefore my intention to share my report with Welsh Government.

I have made the following recommendations:

(a) The Council’s Chief Executive should apologise in writing to Mr N.

(b) The Council should make a payment to Mr N of £3,310.

(c) The Council should make a payment to Mr N of £250 to reflect shortcomings in complaint handling.

(d) The Council should review this case from a complaint handling perspective and share with my office any lessons learned.

(e) The Council should share a copy of my report with its Corporate Parent Cabinet Committee and its Chair should provide my office with details of any actions this Committee intends to take as a result of this case.

(f) The Corporate Parent Cabinet Committee should consider the arrangements it deems most appropriate in respect of long term savings for LAC while encouraging them to save from pocket money. In doing so, the Council should have regard to the following: its duty to act as a corporate parent to give LAC the best possible start in life and other local authority saving schemes.

(g) The Council should provide my office with its proposals and action plan for reviewing cases of a LAC, who like Mr N, may be similarly affected in this regard.

(h) The Council should review its current arrangements/requirements in respect of savings and expenditure and the checking, retention and passing on of savings records at the end of a placement with a view to introducing clearer guidance/requirements.

(i) In collaboration with the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales the Council should revise its foster carer agreement to ensure that it is compliant with the requirements of Schedule 5 to the Fostering Services (Wales) Regulations 2003.

The Council agreed to implement all of the recommendations with the exception of recommendation (b), the payment to Mr N. It was prepared to reimburse Mr N for the two trips which were funded from his savings.

It is very disappointing that the Council has to date refused to accept my recommendations in full. If the Council maintains this position and fails to comply with recommendation (b) in full within two months of my report (i.e. by 21 January 2017), I will have to consider whether to issue a further special report against the Council under s22 of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005. Should this continue to be the decision of the Council following the Corporate Parent Cabinet Committee’s consideration of my report, in view of the seriousness of a s22 special report, I have recommended that my report is also shared with all of the elected members of the Council.

A full copy of the report is available below.