A PROMINENT family lawyer has heavily criticised a Bradford Council decision to cut fostering allowances.

Foster carers receive allowances to help pay for children’s clothes, food and necessities as well as fees for their work.

Council bosses decided to reduce these allowances earlier this month, citing case law which meant they had to bring them into line with allowances paid to family-and-friends carers.

But Huddersfield-based solicitor Nigel Priestley, who won one of the landmark cases involved, criticised Bradford for cutting the higher allowances instead of raising the lower ones – accusing them of starting a “fight to the bottom”.

A case in Lewisham in 2008, followed by Mr Priestley’s case representing a grandmother in Kirklees in 2010, established that family-and-friends carers – often grandparents with arrangements called special guardianship orders – should not be paid less in allowances than regular foster carers.

The Government then published guidance in 2011, which confirmed this, and Mr Priestley said as a result, many local authorities had raised kinship allowances to the level paid to foster carers.

But Mr Priestley, senior partner at Ridley and Hall, said it was “highly questionable” that Bradford Council was now using a need for parity to justify cutting the higher of the two.

He said: “Instead of taking special guardianship allowances up to the level of foster payments, they are dumbing down, in a sense.

“It’s a fight to the bottom of the barrel.”

Mr Priestley questioned why Bradford had not taken action back in 2011, saying any kinship carers underpaid since then could make a legal claim for back-payment.

He said: “It was very clear that the local authority had to pay the same for special guardianship allowances as for a fostering allowance, and if this local authority have been deliberately short-changing family-and-friends carers then firstly that is a disgrace but secondly it leaves them open to some very significant claims for back-payment.”

Mr Priestley said allowances were meant to support some of society’s most vulnerable children and young people.

He said cutting them could drive existing foster carers onto the books of independent agencies, who pay more, and “sends entirely the wrong message” to those considering fostering.

Bradford Council’s Executive approved the decision to cut foster carers’ allowances earlier this month.

The meeting heard that the alternative, of raising the family-and-friends allowances, could cost the authority up to £1.6m a year.

But the decision is currently on hold, after the opposition Conservatives triggered a process which will see the matter examined by a cross-party scrutiny committee.

Michael Jameson, Bradford Council’s strategic director for children’s services, said: “The allowances that Bradford is proposing for foster carers and those providing care through other arrangements such as special guardianship orders has been aligned to the Government recommended rates.

“Most other authorities in England also pay the Government recommended allowances.

“Bradford values the exceptional contribution of its foster carers and has taken steps to ensure that it continues to pay its foster carers more than other authorities in West Yorkshire.”