Parents need to be supported to balance care and work needs, Ombudsman says

Parents of children with disabilities should be supported to balance their care and working needs, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.

A recent investigation by the Ombudsman uncovered one council applying a blanket restriction on paying for ‘childcare’ for a working mum of two children with disabilities, when she needed extra support during working hours.


Kent County Council’s policy meant it did not consider the woman’s individual needs, and simply referred her back to the policy when she complained.

The mum told the LGO she was being discriminated against because she wanted to work and also care for her two sons. Her older son needed constant supervision which meant balancing work and caring was difficult. She said she felt constantly in a battle to obtain support, leading to an impact on her health. The situation was particularly difficult during school holidays, and feeling unable to cope, ultimately resulted in her requesting her son move to a school where he could stay outside of term times.

Initially the mother received a package of benefits but when the older son moved to a residential school, the mum ‘banked’ the hours she received in direct payments to pay for carers during the summer break.

The council carried out a reassessment and said the mother could not use her direct payments to pay for childcare and should use her annual leave to cover the summer period and make flexible working arrangements. It did not take into account that the mum already had to use part of her leave entitlement to attend her sons’ health, education and social care appointments and was left with few days left to take off.

The mother said she was being penalised for working, and had to use the hours set aside for weekend respite to cover midweek and holidays – meaning she often had no break in her caring duties.

She complained a number of times, but every time the council responded by reiterating that its policy stated direct payments related only to the child’s needs and could not be used to fund a parent who wished to work.  The council took her complaint to Stage Two of the statutory Children’s Complaint Process, but then referred her to the LGO instead of taking it to Stage Three.

The LGO’s investigation found the teenager’s needs assessment and the mum’s carers assessment did not consider the family’s needs in tandem.  There was no evidence the council considered the family’s needs in the school holidays and simply assumed the mum could take time off work.

The investigation found that had the council assessed the family properly it would have offered extra care hours. But it also found a financial assessment may have asked the mother to contribute to paying for those hours.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said:

“Government guidance is very clear that authorities should give consideration to carers who want to work. Councils won’t necessarily have to provide additional support, but they do need to assess people’s individual situations properly. 

“In this case Kent County Council applied a blanket policy and  did not consider the rather unique circumstances of this family. It did not look at the needs of the child and the carer holistically or recognise that care provided for young people aged 16 or 17 is very different to usual childcare.

“I am however pleased that Kent council has agreed to my recommendations to avoid similar problems happening to others.”

To remedy the complaint, the council has agreed to:

  • Revise its direct payments policy
  • Review the sufficiency of childcare and range of short breaks available for older disabled children and
  • Provide training for officers and managers carrying out social care
  • Pay the mother £1,000 in recognition of the time and trouble she had to go to in pursuing her complaint and also to reflect the stress she was under during the period.

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