A complaint has been upheld against West Sussex County Council after a university student was told her accommodation fees would only be paid if she stayed with her foster family.
The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman said the council was ‘at fault’, adding it was ‘an injustice’ to insist the student had to ‘live with the foster family against her will’.
The student – known as Ms C – came to the UK as an unaccompanied minor in 2002 when she was six years old and had been in care ever since. She became estranged from her foster parents when she was 21.
A report from the ombudsman said the council had already agreed to pay her accommodation fees while she studied medicine at university, before claiming her decision to leave foster care went against a ‘staying put arrangement’.
She was told her accommodation payments would stop within 28 days because the arrangement had ‘broken down’.
Staying put arrangements allow formerly fostered children to stay with their former foster parents if both parties agreed.
While the council said Ms C’s reasons for not wanting to stay with her foster parents were ‘trivial’, the ombudsman said that was not relevant.
The council was reminded that it had a duty under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 to ‘provide accommodation to Ms C at a place convenient for her education’.
The ombudsman added: “It does not have to be in university halls though, if, as Ms C says, she has a substantially reduced rent in halls because she was formerly in care, reduced travel costs and can live there 51 weeks per year, this may prove a sensible solution.”
The council agreed to apologise to Ms C, pay her £200 and both find and fund a place for her to live until her course ends in June 2022.
A council spokesman said: “We have accepted the Local Government Ombudsman’s report and have implemented all the recommendations that were identified.”