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What new Universal Credit rules mean for kinship carers

Published: 1st November 2023

5 minute read

Last week, new work conditionality requirements came into force for parents and kinship carers in receipt of Universal Credit. Family Rights Group is very concerned about the impact on families. In this blog we highlight the worrying impact on kinship carers who have stepped up to care for children at a time of crisis.

Kinship carers are grandparents, uncles, aunts and other relatives or friends raising children who cannot remain with their parents. There are over 150,000 children in England alone who are raised by kinship carers.  Only a small minority – around 12,500 – are raised by kinship carers who are registered foster carers. The rest are raised by carers who may have no legal order for the child or may have a special guardianship or child arrangements order.

Becoming a kinship carer, often at short notice, has a huge impact on family life. Half of kinship carers have to give up their jobs or reduce their working hours to provide care for their children, many of whom have complex needs, and all will have experienced tragedy or trauma. As a result, many kinship carers become dependent on welfare benefits. It’s no wonder that 3 out of 4 kinship carers say becoming a kinship carer has caused them severe financial hardship.

The Universal Credit changes, which were announced earlier this year in the Spring Budget and came into force last week, require parents and carers to spend more time on work and work-related activities in order to qualify for Universal Credit.

  • Parents and carers of children aged 3 to 12 are expected to spend more hours working and looking for work
  • Parents and carers of children aged 1 and 2 are expected to meet more frequently with their work coach

These changes increase the differential treatment between kinship carers and foster carers (including kinship foster carers) who are subject to significantly fewer requirements. It risks placing greater strain on already struggling families including single kinship carers, such as Charlotte, who is raising children with acute needs. Families who have stepped in to prevent children from going into the care system with strangers.

Charlotte’s story

Charlotte is a grandmother raising three-year-old twins. One child has been recently diagnosed with ADHD and autism. The other is displaying challenging behaviour and awaiting further assessments. Charlotte was working part time and receiving Universal Credit but has recently been made redundant. She does not receive disability related benefits for the children and will be subject to the new requirements. She said:

“As a kinship carer struggling to care for young children with additional needs, I am extremely concerned that once again we are not being recognised in the same way as foster carers. I feel it unacceptable that we are asked to provide care for children, give up our lives, aspirations, and finances to do the same – and we do so with love – and yet are constantly being treated unfavourably in all areas. 

“I am extremely worried about my ability to comply with these new requirements and what the impact would be to my family if I was sanctioned.  It is only because I have the care of my grandchildren that I need these benefits so desperately”.

When Universal Credit was introduced, Family Rights Group led the campaign and subsequent negotiations to secure a partial concession for kinship carers in the Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

The concession means that for the first 12 months after becoming a kinship carer, they are subject to a work-focused interview only. This concession remains and is not affected by the new changes. But after those 12 months, the kinship carer has to meet the same requirement as other parents, which are much tougher.

In stark contrast, foster carers, including kinship foster carers, are subject to work-focused interviews only but are not required to go out to work, for as long as they are fostering a child that is under 16.

If the kinship carer has other grounds for exemption from looking for work – for example, being unfit for work themselves or if the child they are raising is eligible for Disability Living Allowance – then those exemptions will still apply. However, this is often regarded as a hard threshold of need, excluding those children, such as Charlotte’s grandchildren, who have significant additional needs but do not qualify for disability benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions has promised that work coaches will have the flexibility to agree requirements that suit the claimant’s circumstances. However, we know that staff do not always have an awareness or understanding of the special circumstances of kinship carers, especially those outside of the care system.

The Government has recognised that foster carers should be subject to lighter touch requirements, reflecting their caring responsibilities. We are urging them to apply the same for all kinship carers, by strengthening the kinship care concession to bring it in line with that for foster carers.

If you are a kinship carer affected by these changes and would like to support our campaign by sharing your story, please get in touch.

We thank Andrew Gwynne MP, Chair of the APPG on Kinship Care, who is raising this issue in Parliament.

Jordan Hall is Public Affairs and Partnerships Manager at Family Rights Group and provides the secretariat to the APPG on Kinship Care

The new requirements on parents and carers

Parents and carers of children aged 3 and 4 go from a maximum of 16 hours per week working or looking for work to a maximum of 30 hours, nearly doubling the time expected to be spent on work-related activities.

Parents and carers of children aged 5 to 12 go from a maximum of 25 hours per week working or looking for work to a maximum of 30 hours, which amounts to an increase of 20%.

Since July 2023, parents and carers of children aged 1 have had to meet with their work coach every 3 months instead of every 6 months, doubling the frequency of meetings.

Since July 2023, parents and carers of children aged 2 have had to meet with their work coach every month instead of every three months, tripling the frequency of meetings.

Foster carers are subject to work-focused interviews only for as long as they are fostering a child that is under 16 and do not have to seek additional work or look for work.

Kinship carers who are not foster carers are subject to work-focused interviews only for the first 12 months after becoming responsible for the child but then have the same requirements to work or look for work as parents.

There are some additional exemptions that may apply which mean the parent or carer does not have to look for work. For example, if the parent or carer: has been declared unfit for work; is part of a pensioner couple; or is a carer for a disabled child or adult and in receipt of Carers Allowance or the Carers’ Element of Universal Credit.

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