Financial Assistance Section 17 (s17) Children Act 1989

This chapter was added to the manual in June 2020.

1. Children in Need - 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.

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 (s17 (10)).

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 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 (s17(3)).

Services may be given in kind or in exceptional circumstances only, in cash (s17 (6)).

It is possible to attach conditions as to the repayment of the assistance or of its value (s17 (7)). However, no person shall be liable to make any repayment of assistance or its value at any time when s/he is in receipt of Income Support or Family Credit under the Social Security Act 1986 (s17(9)).

Who is a Child in Need?

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 such as the Benefit Agency. 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 case plan, detailing which services should be provided by the local authority and which by other agencies.

Assessment will conclude whether the child's or family's needs fall within a 'high', 'medium' or 'lower' category. This will include Section 17 Preventing Accommodation assessments of the need for short breaks and other respite and support for disabled children, with available resources prioritised accordingly.

Workers must bear in mind that children's needs change over time, that cultural differences should be acknowledged and that not only the needs of a child but also their right to be heard on matters of concern to them must be respected in making judgements about the help to offer.

2. Family Support Services - the Legal Framework

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 states that it is the general duty of every local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and so far as it is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families.

The local authority must do this by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs.

It is these services which broadly are termed Family Support Services.

Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Act further details the steps that local authorities must take to help children in need to continue to live with their families and generally to prevent the breakdown of family relationships. Such arrangements should assist the parent and enhance, not undermine the parents' authority and control and should extend to work with families when a child is in care, provided it does not jeopardise their welfare.

These provisions can be summarised as:

  • Identification of children in need and provision of information;
  • Maintenance of a register of children with disabilities;
  • Assessment of children's needs;
  • Prevention of neglect and abuse;
  • Provision of accommodation in order to protect children;
  • Provision of services for children with a disability;
  • Provision to reduce the need for care proceedings etc;
  • Provision of services for children in need living with their families;
  • Provision of family centres;
  • Maintenance of child's links with family.

3. Provision of s17 Financial Assistance

Financial assistance in terms of goods or services, or in very exceptional circumstances cash, can be provided to a child, parent or carer under Section 17(6) Children Act 1989 to address identified needs to safeguard and promote a child's welfare where there is no other legitimate source of financial assistance. The Council's Housing & Regeneration Department are responsible for managing the Wandsworth Social Fund, and have a budget for agreeing emergency payments and for the purchase of white goods and reconditioned furniture. For requests that fall within the remit of the Social Fund, in all cases, families should be assisted to make an application to the Social Fund as the preferred alternative to Children's Services providing financial support under S17.

The services provided by a local authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them by this section may include giving assistance in kind or, in exceptional circumstances only, in cash. However, cash can only be given if authorised by an Assistant Director or the Director, and assistance to access a local food bank must always be the default position. Only where this isn't feasible e.g. the local food bank isn't open on the day the emergency request for support is made, can food vouchers be given as an alternative to food bank vouchers. This ensures the child/children are the beneficiaries of the support provided. Food vouchers for Aldi stores can be obtained from the Children's Services Transactions Team. Cash can only be given in exceptionable circumstances and only after gaining agreement from an Assistant Director, or the Director.

Assistance may be unconditional or subject to conditions as to the repayment of the assistance or of its value (in whole or in part).

Before giving any assistance or imposing any conditions, a local authority shall have regard to the means of the child concerned and of each of the child's parents.

No person shall be liable to make any repayment of assistance or of its value at any time when he is in receipt of income support. Part VII of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, of any element of child tax credit other than the family element; of working tax credit; of an income-based jobseeker's allowance or of an income-related employment and support allowance.

In order to appropriately and efficiently apply these responsibilities, this guidance outlines the Local Authority's expectations regarding practice, and requires all staff who may request financial support for a child/family from the Section 17 budget, to be fully aware of these expectations and be able to justify any application for resources accordingly.

The management and responsibility of the budget and compliance, as well as the Local Authority financial regulations, within which this guidance operates, rests with the budget holder (usually Service Manager or Head of Service) and the budget supervisor (usually Head of Service or Assistant Director).

Social work staff shall be mindful of issues of risk and liability when purchasing goods on behalf of a family.

4. Criteria for s17 Financial Assistance

The Criteria for s17 financial assistance are:

  • The payment must be to support and promote the welfare of the child;
  • An allocated worker should be actively involved with the family at least for the duration of the payments and if the financial assistance is more than one off emergency assistance, this must be assessed as part of an assessment or through the review of a child's plan.

All alternatives should be first explored with the family, including providing assistance in accessing and utilising their existing resources and other support options available to the best effect, and supporting the family in becoming self-sustaining, prior to any application for funding.

  • Payments must be made directly to the supplier or provider of services. Cash should not be given directly to the family or carers except in exceptional circumstances, and only with the agreement of an Assistant Director or the Director;
  • At point of request for financial support it should be confirmed that there are no alternate sources of finance from the Benefits Agency, Housing Benefit, family or friend contributions, other agencies, including the Social Fund, Healthy Start vouchers (available for those on benefits or low income during pregnancy and/or with children aged under four years old), and charities. Evidence of all other options having been first explored/exhausted needs to be uploaded on Mosaic as an attachment, and recorded on the child's file under case notes. If theft is alleged, a crime number should be provided and recorded in case notes;
  • All financial assistance is a one off, low value transaction. There may be exceptional circumstances where multiple occasions of financial support are required over a set period. In such circumstances, these are to be considered on a case by case basis and a request presented at the weekly Care Panel, and must be subject to review and be time-limited. The period for which funding has been agreed must be clearly communicated by the team worker to the person in receipt of the assistance.

It is Children's Services' policy that financial support and assistance that is provided under the Children Act 1989 should be supplementary to the benefit system and not an alternative to it. Children's Services is not an income maintenance agency, and staff should be directing families to other services and agencies who can provide the required financial support in most cases.

It is therefore vitally important that steps are taken to maximise benefit income and rectify any Social Fund administrative problems with the Director of Housing & Regeneration if these are giving rise to demand on Children's Services' funds.

This would include use of, where appropriate:

  • Crisis loans, budgeting grants and community care grants, especially for families under stress;
  • Income Support, JSA and Housing Benefit (on interim or statutory basis);
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit (including help with child care costs);
  • Healthy Start vouchers;
  • Guardian's Allowance for people caring for bereaved children;
  • Housing Benefit and/or discretionary housing payments;
  • Council Tax benefit and discounts;
  • National Insurance benefits (such as Incapacity Benefit and Maternity Allowance);
  • Non-contributory benefits such as Child Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance;
  • Care to Learn funding;
  • The appeal and review systems of all of the above.

Entitlement to all of the above can be established by contacting the Wandsworth Benefits Team, contact details:

Phone: 020 8871 6218

And, Benefits advice is presently provided through a contract:

: 020 7978 7306

The Benefits Team and Citizens Advice Bureau can also provide debt advice.

Advice can also be sought as to possible solutions to administrative and procedural problems such as non-arrival of benefit payments, recovery of alleged overpayments, benefit suspensions due to fraud investigation etc. This may include supplying contact details for liaison staff in the relevant benefit-paying agencies.

Children's Services' staff also need to be mindful as to whether the costs of the service required should rightly be met by Health Services (via the CCG), or Educational Services.

5. Types of s17 Financial Assistance

5.1 One off payments

These should only be used to overcome a crisis, following the best assessment that can be achieved in the following circumstances:

Specific Guidance – Allowable expenditure

  • Food – method of payment – food bank vouchers, or food shop vouchers (usually Aldi vouchers, but on occasion Sainsburys cards can be provided), but only if a local food bank has been ruled out as an option, in no circumstances cash. There are four food banks in the borough, and MASH are able to apply for food bank vouchers from them;
  • Gas - method of payment - direct payment to utility provider only, in exceptional circumstances only - cash for a coin meter if the member of staff oversees feeding the meter;
  • Electricity - method of payment - direct payment to utility provider only, in exceptional circumstances only – cash for a coin meter if the member of staff oversees feeding the meter;
  • Clothing - one off payment, method of payment is provision of goods only, in no circumstances cash;
  • Toiletries - one off payment, method of payment is provision of goods only, in no circumstances cash;
  • Nappies, baby milk/baby food should be given in appropriate amounts, in no circumstances cash. For families on benefits or low income, Healthy Start vouchers must be claimed. These vouchers can be exchanged at local shops for milk and healthy food, and are available to claim during pregnancy and for children aged under four years old.

5.2 Clothing and Equipment

The provision of clothing, furniture, bedding or safety equipment can only be provided where an assessment determines items identified as essential to meet the needs of the child and/or prevent the child suffering significant harm or significant need and/or the need for the child to be looked after by the local authority. All other avenues e.g. local charities, the Wandsworth Social Fund, must have been explored and ruled out first.

Specific Guidance

  • The assessment should address where needs are identified what avenues the family have taken and been advised to take to address the issue themselves, including family members support, via benefits, and how family resources are being utilised;
  • In most circumstances, the family should be supported to access community resources first. This includes, liaison with the benefits agency, advice agencies, the Housing & Regeneration Department in respect of the Wandsworth administered Social Fund, and local charitable organisations;
  • Submissions of requests for financial assistance from Children's Services must include the efforts and support undertaken to seek alternate sources of funding/assistance.

5.3 Travelling Expenses

This provision is available to support the transport of children, parents, carers or extended family members to attend assessments, activities, appointments and support groups which are essential to a child's plan or to comply with court direction.

  • An assessment must ensure and agree that family members could not reasonably be expected to travel using their own means due to medical, situational, financial or geographical reasons. This support is to be provided through Oyster cards/top-ups, bus and/or train tickets when relevant. In some circumstances, agreement may be given to reimburse the family or friend's petrol costs when a receipt is provided. The most up to date figures relating to petrol costs can be obtained from HM Revenues and Customs Guidance.

Taxis should not be agreed for family members. For the child/children it should be the last option to be explored, and will not be approved unless all other avenues of travel have been exhausted, and the cost of taxi/s has been evaluated against the benefits to the child being able to attend the appointment/event.

Specific Guidance

  • GP confirmation of medical conditions reported to impact upon capacity to travel or use public transport are to be provided to the Local Authority by the parent, carer, adult family member;
  • Reimbursement of petrol costs to be subject to driver and vehicle being appropriately licensed and insured. The rates of payment for fuel has to be based upon average miles per gallon/litre for the vehicle used for an agreed distance between home to the meeting, the cost identified to be agreed prior to submission for approval. For guidance on the reimbursement rates for petrol costs, please refer to HM Revenues and Customs Guidance;
  • For children, only council approved Taxi companies can be used for transportation.

5.4 Specialists Assessments and DNA/Hair Strand Testing

If special assessments or testing is required prior to care proceedings (pre proceedings public law outline PLO) to ascertain if a child is at risk of harm, then these need to be agreed by the Head of Service or an Assistant Director.

Specific Guidance

  • Costs should be coded to Section 17;
  • Any agreement for the above needs to be via a written request.

5.5 Interpreter and Translation Costs

Where English is not the first language for children, parents/or carers, workers need to ascertain if the child and parents/or carer is able to understand and speak English to the level that they can complete their intervention/involvement in a meaningful way.

If the child and parents/or carer is not able to understand or speak English to the required level, then an interpreter will be required. Consideration first is to be given to whether this could be an extended family member or family friend or community worker including teaching staff, with the parents'/carer's permission, if it will not be detrimental to the intervention. It is important that any Section 47 enquiries or disclosure interviews always have an independent professional interpreter, using the Council's contracted Interpreting Service.

Key documents such as assessments, child protection case conference minutes, plans and court documents should always be translated.

Specific Guidance

  • Professional Interpreters should always be used for assessments; Case Conferences; and court proceedings.

5.6 Payments not Covered by this Guidance

  • When a service user requests financial assistance because of a failure of arrival of benefits or tax credits. (Please note if administrative or procedural failures are leading to Children Act expenditure, and make sure your manager is notified);
  • When the service user has been denied benefits because of her/his immigration status, particularly if Job Centre Plus staff are claiming that the person is not 'habitually resident' in the UK or the person has 'no recourse to public funds' as a condition of their stay in the UK;
  • If a young person is being Accommodated under S20, in independent living or is being financially supported under S24. (The benefit position of young people and care leavers is often complex and detailed advice should be sought in individual cases);
  • If a service user is requesting assistance with a one-off item of expenditure and is in receipt of Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance;
  • Where a child with a disability is approaching her/his 16th birthday and, Looked After or not, advice is required in relation to benefits.

A guide to benefits for people who foster or adopt, which also covers informal or family and friend carers is available on GOV.UK along with other benefit guides for families, children with disabilities, pregnant women, carers and young people, and the current rates of benefit and tax credits.

5.7 Other Types of Payments not Covered by this Guidance

  • Day care for pre-school and other children under section 18 Children Act 1989. Payments for the care of looked after children residing with Local Authority approved foster cares (including family and friends);
  • Payments for those holding a Child Arrangements Order (Family and Friends Care arrangements);
  • Payments to adopters; those holding a Special Guardianship Order; Child Arrangements Order see Adoption Order, Special Guardianship Order and Child Arrangements Order Allowances;
  • Direct Payments agreed for Disabled Children's and Young People's support.

6. Approval of s17 Financial Assistance

All requests for financial assistance should be made by the team worker to their team manager or assistant team manager, and must include details of the supporting welfare issue that needs addressing and the alternatives that have been explored and exhausted.

Goods and services should be purchased via a new commitment entry on Mosaic or Integra. If the expenditure/financial assistance is approved by the relevant level of management, the purchase can be made, either via Mosaic, Integra, or using a Procurement card. Food vouchers and travel warrants are held by the Children's Services Transactions Team (5th Floor, Town Hall Extension). All requests must be recorded on the child's file with the relevant documents uploaded. Petty cash can only be requested in exceptional circumstances, and must be agreed by an Assistant Director, or the Director.

In all cases the child's worker will make their request to their team manager or assistant team manager, who will review the work undertaken, and will confirm approval for a one-off support solution up to a value of £200. Submission to the service manager must be made for one-off amounts valued at above £200, but not exceeding £500.

One-off amounts exceeding £500.00, and all requests for more than a one-off offer of support e.g. on-going short breaks for a disabled child to prevent their accommodation, must in all circumstances be referred to the Head of Service for their review. The Head of Service will identify any additional actions that may need to be undertaken before confirming the approval of non cash support. In extreme situations of family crisis where the Head of Service agrees there is an immediate need for cash and no other alternatives are appropriate, approval must be sought from an Assistant Director, or the Director.

The schedule for authorisation applicable to S17 financial support is as follows:

CAPTION: S17 financial support
Financial Approval Limits for S17 one-off payments/Support Authorised to Sanction
£1 - £200 one-off S17 support (excludes cash) Team Manager or Assistant Team Manager
£200 - £500 one-off S17 support (excludes cash) Service Manager

£500 - £1,000 one-off S17 support (excludes cash)

And for on-going S17 support costing no more than £200 a week, or a maximum of £10,000 in a full year (excludes cash)

N.B. The above levels are for S17 support payments. There are higher authorisation levels for on-going CLA placements

Head of Service

All requests for cash

£1,000 and above one-off, and on-going S17 support And for on-going S17 support exceeding £200 a week or £10,000 in a full year

Assistant Director and Director

All proposed expenditure MUST be submitted for approval and agreement through the delegated powers of authority in the above table. This includes transactions that are required to be ordered and recorded on Mosaic and on Integra.

Repeat requests for funding need to be taken to the Care Panel, where ongoing services have been identified as a need and require approval, for all provision of services over a period of time.


No payments can be made until the required approvals/authorisations have been given. The only exceptions to this are low value food vouchers or an emergency supply of nappies/baby milk/baby food (sufficient for essential items for up to two days) where the required level of authorisers aren't available, and a delay in providing financial support would adversely impact a child/children in the household. No other payments/financial support can be made without the required authorisations/approvals having been first completed.

7. Monitoring Spend

S17 payments will be monitored against the available budget monthly. Budget holders must ensure adherence to the guidance in this document, and stay within the available budget. If it seems likely that the budget level will be exceeded, this needs to be flagged in advance to the Head of Service. Team managers and Assistant Team Managers are responsible for ensuring that S17 financial support is one-off. Where it is clear it will not be one-off, they are responsible for referring a request for on-going funding to the Care Panel.

Support to Intentionally Homeless Families

16 and 17 Year Olds

Staff should refer to the Council's Joint Housing Protocol for Homeless 16/17 Year Olds, Care Leavers and Intentionally Homeless Families. This gives details of how the Housing and Children's Services Departments will work together in a co-ordinated manner to ensure that the needs of intentionally homeless families and young people are assessed and responded to appropriately.

Children's Services Acting as Rent Guarantor or Providing Financial Support to Secure or Maintain Tenancies

It can be increasingly difficult for low income families to secure rental properties. Children's Services often work with families who have significant rent arrears or have been deemed intentionally homeless, and there are concerns that this may impact on the parenting they are able to provide for their children. Most recently, there are also concerns arising that the DWP is no longer providing crisis loans, and no applications are being processed as an emergency.

This has led to some requests for Children Services to pay rents; to top up rents; to fund first month rent and deposit payments to secure a tenancy; and to act as rent guarantors for properties.

Under Section 17 of the Children Act, we are able to provide some level of financial assistance for families in relation to housing if this is assessed to be appropriate, but this cannot be reclaimed. There are certain categories where Councils may make payments. The following are payments that Wandsworth's Housing & Regeneration Department should make when relevant, and so Children's Services should refer should requests to that Department:

  • Rental payments for families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF);
  • 1st month rent and deposit for intentionally homeless families.

Rent top ups or acting as rent guarantors for individuals will not be agreed to be funded by Children's Services under any circumstances. Any issues with progressing tenancies for service users because of this veto, or if the Service Manager or Head of Services feel that exceptional circumstances apply, should be brought to the attention of an Assistant Director of Children's Services and the Director of Housing & Regeneration.