Section 17 Payments
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines the circumstances where a Section 17 payment is appropriate
This chapter was added to the manual in August 2016.
1. The Legal Framework
Section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines what is meant by children in need.
A child is defined as being in need if:
- S/he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for her/him of services by a local authority (under this part of the Act); or
- Her/his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired, without the provision of such services; or
- S/he is disabled.
For the purposes of this Part (of the Act) a child is disabled if s/he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from a mental disorder of any kind or is substantially or permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or other such disability as may be prescribed.
The 'family' in relation to such a child includes any person who has parental responsibility for the child and any other person with whom s/he has been living (Section17 (10)).
The Act also makes it clear that any service provided by an authority (under this section) may be provided for the family of a particular child in need or for any family member, if it is provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting the child's welfare (Section 17(3)).
Services may be given in kind or in exceptional circumstances, in cash (Section 17 (6)).
All children who may be in need are entitled to an assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
Children and families will be assessed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 after it has been determined that they cannot receive services to meet their needs by other agencies, e.g. the Department for Work and Pensions. Each referral will be assessed on the information presented and elicited at the point of referral to determine priority for assessment for services.
Assessment will identify the needs of the child and their family, the services required to meet those needs and a plan, detailing which services should be provided. The assessment will confirm the level of support required and which service of the Council or agency is best placed to provide that support.
3. Requests for Assistance under Section 17, including Payments in Cash
Section 17 (6) of the Children Act 1989 states that the local authority may exercise its duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need by providing 'assistance in kind to be given or in exceptional circumstances in cash'.
A budget has been established to enable help of this kind to be given and is available within Children, Families and Community Health.
Assistance in kind or cash payments made from the Section 17 budget will only be made where the assessment indicates that financial assistance is the only appropriate way of safeguarding and promoting their welfare within the family. It is not meant as a substitute for benefits payments.
On receipt of a request for Section 17 assistance the social worker must establish that the needs of the child would be met by such a payment, and that the family cannot obtain the help they require from another source, for example, the Department for Work and Pensions.
The social worker must also establish that the payment will support the achievement of specific objectives for the child, e.g.:
- Reduce the child's vulnerability;
- Prevent them from becoming looked after;
- Ensure that the family does not become dependent upon the local authority to provide financial support on a long-term basis.
The circumstances of the family will determine the nature of the assistance given within the parameters of the following procedures, and whilst it is not possible to detail every possible type of assistance that can be considered, payments will only be made for essential items, for example clothing or heating, and not for non-essential items. Where it is felt that the cash payment could be misused by an adult in the family to the detriment of the child, for example where there are concerns that cash could be spent on alcohol or drugs, alternatives must be considered.
- The purchase by a social worker of specific necessary items, such as nappies or fuel payments for heating or lighting;
- The provision of vouchers stipulating the shop/s to be used;
- Travel warrants detailing who, when and where the recipient (and party) may travel.
N.B. Assistance should be provided in the form of goods or services rather than in the form of a cash payment wherever possible.
4. Authorisation and Review
Once it has been established that a request for financial assistance is required, the social worker should complete a Request for Finance (RFF) form.
The form must include:
- Who the payment is for;
- Whether the child is looked after or a child in need;
- The payee's relationship to the child;
- Clear reasons for the payment;
- What the payment is for;
- The finance code to which any payment is to be attributed;
- The signature of the social worker.
The form should then be passed to the social worker's Team Manager or Assistant Team Manager for authorisation. The Team Manager or Assistant Team Manager should review the form and ensure that the relevant areas have been completed and, once satisfied that the request is appropriate, authorise by signing and returning this to the social worker.
The Service Manager's authorisation is required for all:
- Ongoing or regular payments (the use of such payments should be extremely rare and always subject to an end date);
- Major items of expenditure;
- Payments made as part of an agreed support package (however such payments must not be used as income maintenance measures);
- Payments to families with no recourse to public funds (as whilst they are eligible for Section 17 payments, payments must be separately coded so they can be clearly identified);
- Payments over the agreed authorisation amount of the Team Manager or Assistant Team Manager (as outlined in the Scheme of Delegation).
The person authorising the expenditure should sign the Section 17 form, indicating their agreement to the preferred method of payment.
The level of financial help offered should reflect the family's circumstances, depending upon what the payment is for and bearing in mind the period for which the financial help is required and any other stresses on the family.
Two or more requests in a year will trigger a review of all support provided.
No payment will be made without a completed and authorised RFF form.Once authorised, the completed RFF should be attached to the child's file.