'Numerous mistakes' made over Central Bedfordshire foster carer's pay

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Central Beds Council accepted fault and agreed to pay her £500

A local authority made "numerous mistakes" paying a Central Bedfordshire foster carer her allowances and expenses, resulting in a complaint to the ombudsman as three in every four payments contained errors.

The grievance has been closed now after Central Bedfordshire Council accepted fault, agreed to pay her £500 and made a written apology "to remedy the injustice caused".

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The council is also improving its payment system for all foster carers, according to a report by the local government and social care ombudsman.

Central Bedfordshire CouncilCentral Bedfordshire Council
Central Bedfordshire Council

"The complainant, referred to as Mrs X, is an emergency and short-term foster carer, which means she has a number of placements," explained the report.

"She constantly experienced mistakes, including wrong allowances, missed and delayed payments, as well as mathematical errors and some based on incorrect information.

"The injustice is that Mrs X has spent unnecessary time emailing the council to correct errors, wasting valuable time she could spend looking after vulnerable children in her care."

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The ombudsman investigated the period August 2020 to August 2021 and asked CBC to consider her complaint about systemic failures in the foster payment system.

"Carers are paid a fostering allowance when looking after children and the amount they receive partly depends on the number of children placed with them and a child's age," said the report.

"Emergency foster carers normally take children on a short-term basis. Children’s services pay a nightly tier fee to the carers, as well as an age-related child’s allowance for the time they're with the respite carer's care.

"The amount paid for this task varies between placements. CBC's expenses system involves the carer completing a form, which is checked by their supervising social worker, authorised by the foster team manager and sent to a finance inbox by email.

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"Finance officers raise a ‘purchase order’ on the system. If the claim is more than £500, approval is needed from the budget manager.

"Once the payment is uploaded and approved, it goes on the next pay run. This is a manual process resulting in human error and administrative errors.

"The council tells me that Mrs X is right when she says that about three quarters of her payments had to be corrected," added the report.

"She takes the most emergency/respite looked after children locally, resulting in more allowance and expenses claims.

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"CBC says it doesn't consider there's a systemic failure in its foster payment process, but it's planning to digitalise the system where possible.

"It hopes to have a portal by 2023 enabling foster carers to store their allowances and expenses claims, and directly view their progress.

"CBC accepted she experienced delays and errors in the payments to her, which caused avoidable distress and frustration."

The ombudsman remarked: "As the council has accepted these errors, I haven't looked at the sequence of events in detail.

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"The local authority says she's the only one who formally complained, which doesn't mean other foster carers haven't had similar problems.

"Indeed, Mrs X says she's aware others have experienced issues because she's part of a fostering network, with many complaining about being affected by the council’s system failure.

"While I don't dispute her comments, I couldn't say there's sufficient evidence of a service failure which warrants further investigation by the ombudsman.

"She'll have been caused avoidable frustration by having to correct mistakes in the payments to her over a 12-month period.

"CBC agreed to apologise to her by letter and to make a symbolic payment of £500, within six weeks of the date of the final statement."