A North Yorkshire couple have successfully challenged North Yorkshire County Council’s policy of not paying adoption allowances beyond their child’s 18th birthday.
K was born in 1995 and placed with Mr and Mrs B in 1996 when he 9 months old. He was adopted by them in 1997.
In 2007 his parents applied for an adoption allowance for him. Commenting, his mother said, “K has emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. He’s always been a challenge to parent because he also has insecure attachments. These have had a real impact on him and our family. He struggles to find and maintain friends; his emotional equilibrium is unpredictable and his behaviour is challenging. This has caused problems at school, college and home. We needed help – and financial support”.
She went on, “North Yorkshire paid us an allowance from 2007 based on the means test. They kept paying it once he had left school and gone to technical college. But when he hit 18 in October 2013 the county council stopped the payments instantly.”
“North Yorkshire’s adoption policy allowed the county council to keep paying the allowance until he ceases full-time education. If he reaches 18 and he’s in full time education it can be continued until he’s 21.
“This policy is in line with the government’s requirements. It was obviously better that K should be able to learn a trade which would help him live independently. We made sure the money was used only to support K – we even used to fund contact with his birth mother and other birth relatives, which we thought was in his best interests. When the allowance stopped, lots of good things that we were able to do with our son stopped as well.”
When the allowance stopped, the couple appealed. They were told that there was nothing exceptional about K that made it necessary to pay the allowance.
Commenting Mr Priestley said “It was quite clear to me that North Yorkshire’s approach was wrong and in breach of the law. Their policy may have reflected statutory guidance which simply allows the payments to continue till the adopted child in question finishes his or her education. Not one adoptive parent in North Yorkshire has had their payments extended beyond 18. The reason seems to be that North Yorkshire had an unwritten policy which it applied. This was that the couple had to show the child in question had exceptional needs.
“As it happens, K, in my view, had those needs but NYCC didn’t agree. K had an educational statement whilst he was at school, which provided him with a high level of in-class support. He has continued to need a substantial amount of in-class support in technical college. But that test does not exist in the policy or the legislation.
“NYCC were told that they would be taken to court if they did not change their approach. They refused. We had a nightmare attempting to get legal aid. In the end my clients felt so strongly about the way they had been treated that we went ahead without legal aid.
“In June 2015, an application was issued in Leeds for judicial review. By this time K had almost completed his third year at technical. At first the county council fought the case. They then proposed that they would put the application back to the panel without any requirement that the child’s needs had to be exceptional.
“I am delighted that the panel agreed to restart paying the adoption allowance and the cherry on the cake for my clients and their son was that it was backdated to the time K became 18. My clients are now getting nearly £200 per week and they have had a five figure back payment. The local authority have made a substantial contribution to my client’s costs. The panel’s decision saved North Yorkshire more embarrassment – and even more legal costs!
“This is the first time NYCC have made such a payment. It must not be the last.
“This challenge should never have been necessary. My clients were David against Goliath. They took a real risk with the costs of legal proceedings. But they felt very strongly that adopters do not stop caring when their child is 18 and neither should the local authority. K has significant needs. The course at college will give him a chance of some independence. The government and North Yorkshire’s policy said that K in theory ought to be supported whist he was still being educated. In practice they refused him twice until they were made to change under the threat of legal proceedings.
“North Yorkshire is a huge county council. How many more adoptive families have been refused and have not known their rights or have been put off by the costs of going to court?”
For any legal advice relating to adoption, please contact us on 01484 538421.