This information applies to Scotland only
All across Scotland, thousands of people, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends, care for children because their natural parents are unable to do so. If you are looking after a child like this – full time or most of the time – then you are a kinship carer.
The rights and responsibilities of kinship carers can be complicated. Getting advice is important so you know about your options and know if you are getting the practical and financial support that you are entitled to.
When children live in kinship care arrangements, disputes can arise between parents and kinship carers about contact with children and financial matters, particularly entitlement to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has rules about who can claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. It is generally the person that the child ‘regularly, usually, typically’ lives with. This means that if the child lives in one home for three days of the week and the other for four days, for example, the person who cares for the child for four days will be eligible to claim.
Getting advice on kinship care
There are four main places where you can get advice and support on anything to do with kinship care:
- Your nearest CAB - where to get advice. If you can’t get to a CAB, call the confidential Kinship Care helpline on 0808 800 0006. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles.
- The social work or children’s services department at your local authority.
Note: If the child you care for has recently been living in a different local authority, you will normally need to deal with that local authority.
- CHILDREN 1st provide a national kinship care helpline run by ParentLine Scotland. The helpline is a free confidential service for anyone caring for a child in Scotland. The helpline opening hours are: 9am-10pm Monday to Friday, 12noon-8pm Saturday and Sunday. The helpline can be contacted on 08000 28 22 33 or by email at email@example.com.
- In many parts of Scotland there are local groups where you can meet up with other kinship carers to share experiences. The local authority or the CAB will able to tell you if there is a group in your area.
Getting information and support from the local authority
If you are a kinship carer – or think you might become one – it is your right to ask the local authority what support, both practical and financial, they can provide. You should never feel under pressure from the local authority to enter into a kinship care arrangement if you are not confident that you will get the right practical and financial support.
Sandy stays in Dunfermline and cares for her grandson Jamie. Until he was two, Jamie lived with his mum in Edinburgh. Even though Sandy’s local authority is Fife Council, she needs to deal with Edinburgh Council for help and support looking after Jamie.
The local authority that has responsibility for the child may not be the local authority where you live.
If you are not happy with the way the local authority is dealing with you, you can complain. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services. Your local CAB can help with this. - where to get advice.
The legal status of the kinship care arrangement
If you are a kinship carer it is important to understand the legal status of the child or children you are caring for.
One key legal distinction is whether a child is formally ‘looked after’ by the local authority or not.
Although ‘looked after’ is not the only relevant legal distinction, it is central to understanding your rights, your benefit entitlements and the duties of the local authority to provide you with assistance.
‘Looked after’ or not ‘looked after’
Some children in kinship care are formally ‘looked after’ by the local authority and some are not.
- A child becomes ‘looked after’ as a result of a formal decision by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local authority. This decision is made when there is serious concern about the welfare of the child.
- The rights and responsibilities you and the local authority have vary depending on whether a child is ‘looked after’ or not. It can also make a difference to any money the local authority may provide to help you care for the child.
- If a child is ‘looked after’ by the local authority it has certain “parental rights” over the child, even though you are caring for them on a daily basis.
- A child can cease to be ‘looked after’ if a new decision is made by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local authority. After the new decision is made, you may end up with more or less “parental responsibility” for the child.
For more information on issues related to being ‘looked after’ see Children who are looked after by the local authority.
Finding out whether a child is formally ‘looked after’ or not
If you are unsure whether the child is ‘looked after’ or not, ask the social work / children’s services department. Social work staff will be familiar with the term ‘looked after’ and they should be able to give you a clear answer. You can ask them to write to you, so you have a formal record of their answer.
If they are not able to help you, contact your local CAB - where to get advice.
Norma stays in Glasgow and cares for two of her grandchildren. Murray used to live with his dad and until last month Morag stayed with her mum. Although both children are in kinship care, only Murray has ‘looked after’ status.
If you are a kinship carer for two or more children, the ‘looked after’ status of each child may be different. Norma needed to check with the council to confirm the status of the two children.
‘Looked after’ children – rights and finances
Rights and roles when the child is 'looked after'
Financial help when the child is 'looked after'
All local authorities in Scotland have agreed with the Scottish Government to set up a scheme to make payments to kinship carers of ‘looked after’ children.
- the amount paid varies from one local authority to another
- some local authorities may ask about your income and/or benefits before deciding on whether they will make a payment and how much it is.
Local authorities are allowed to operate different rules and set different payment amounts. This means that sometimes payments for different children in the same household will be different and payments to kinship carers in the same street may be different.
As a kinship carer of a ‘looked after’ child, you are entitled to claim Child Benefit. When you apply, make sure you state that the claim is for a ‘looked after’ child in a kinship care arrangement. If you have any difficulties with your Child Benefit claim, you can get help at your local CAB.
If you are receiving a kinship care allowance from the local authority for a ‘looked after’ child, then normally you are not entitled to claim Child Tax Credit. For some people on a low income – and where the kinship care payment is low – you may be better off declining a kinship payment and claiming Child Tax Credit instead. If you think this may apply to you, get help at your local CAB in weighing up your options.
- in some cases, if the kinship care allowance is not intended for / being used to cover accommodation and maintenance costs, then you may be entitled to claim Child Tax Credit. In such cases, you will need to make sure you fully explain the circumstance to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) when you claim.
The rules for other benefits – such as Housing Benefit and Pension Credit – are complicated. Your local CAB will be able to work through all your entitlements in detail.
Ceasing to be 'looked after'
At some stage, you or the local authority may want to discuss a child ceasing to be “looked after”. For example, you may want more freedom to make decisions about the care of the child. Before making any decisions about this, make sure you get advice. Some key things to ask about are:
- the legal options – ask about the pros and cons of Residence Orders, Permanence Orders and other options
- the financial implications – ask whether you will still get a kinship care allowance and how any benefits you claim will be affected.
The CAB and social work / children’s services will be able to help. You will probably want to talk to them both.
Not ‘looked after’ children – rights and finances
Local authorities in Scotland have no obligation to make payments to kinship carers of children who are not 'looked after'.
- the local authority does have the power to make payments and offer other assistance to you where they believe that it is in the best interests of the child
- you have the right to ask the local authority for assistance, such as one off payments, alternative care for the child while you take a break, etc.
The local authority may not always respond positively to requests, but they should always treat them with respect. If they do not, you can complain. Your local CAB can help with this. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services.
As a kinship carer of a child who is not ‘looked after’ you are entitled to claim Child Benefit. If you have any difficulties with your Child Benefit claim, you can get help at your local CAB.
As a kinship carer of a child who is not 'looked after' you are entitled to claim Child Tax Credit if you are on a low income. How much you receive will depend on your income.
If you are struggling to make kinship care work
If you are struggling to make the kinship care arrangement work, you can:
- ask for extra support from the social work / children’s services department
- contact the Children’s Reporter who can convene a Children’s hearing to work out what is best for the child – see Children who are looked after by the local authority
- call ParentLine Scotland on 0800 028 2233 – they get lots of calls from kinship carers and will understand the challenges you are facing
- ask your local CAB or the local authority if there is a kinship care support group in your area.
Contacting social work / children’s services or the Children’s Reporter does not mean a child will automatically be taken away from you and put into foster or residential care. No one wants to see this happen when solutions can be found within the family. What it does mean is that a proper assessment can be made of current arrangements in the best interests of the child.