‘Landmark Victory’ For Disabled People - High Court Battle for Accessing Care Services

‘Landmark Victory’ For Disabled People - High Court Battle for Accessing Care Services

A recent Landmark judgment in the High Court brought by Irwin Mitchell has ruled that a council’s Social Care Cost Cut Policy is unlawful and should be quashed.

On Friday 11 November Judge Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the local authority’s plans to cut its adult social care budget was unlawful and said that it failed even to comply with its own internal guidance on how to assess the impact of its new policy. She went on to say that the consultation document ‘provided insufficient information to enable those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response’.

The case, brought on behalf of two severely disabled residents from the Isle of Wight who rely heavily on council services available to them to help provide the 24-hour-care they desperately need, followed news earlier this year that the council was cutting social care support.

The first claimant suffers from severe autism and brain damage, and struggles to communicate with anyone but his parents. He needs support with all areas of his daily life and lives with his parents who are reported by the court to ‘devote their lives to his care’. The second claimant has a-typical autism and a learning disability. He is described as ‘highly vulnerable and anxious and he has communication difficulties, and so needs to be supported by people who understand his way of communicating.’ His mother, with whom he lives at the weekend, brought this case out of concern that the Council’s policy would have a potentially ‘devastating’ effect on the quality of his life.

When handing down her full judgment at the Royal Courts of Justice, Mrs Justice Lang declared that the Isle of Wight’s adult social care policy would have to be quashed for two reasons:

  • That the policy designed to meet the needs of disabled adults was itself unlawful
  • That the Council failed to have regard to the need to promote disability equality under Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 when it set the policy. In relation to the flawed new policy, Mrs Justice Lang said that it was contrary to the guidance set by Government ‘to ensure consistency and transparency between different authorities’.

She added:

“I consider that the consultation document provided insufficient information to enable those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response”, and that “Consultees, including the parents of the Claimants, were left uncertain as to what impact the revised criteria would have on the assistance they received from the Council”.

It is hoped that this decision will now send a clear message to all councils in England and Wales considering cutting social care service. Alex Rook, a specialist Public Law solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, who represented the residents, welcomes the ruling and hopes it will prevent the council from cutting services available to some of the most vulnerable disabled people throughout the country.

Alex Rook explained:

“This landmark victory sends out a very clear message to all councils in England and Wales. If a Council seeks to make cuts to its budget for adult social care, it cannot do so by only meeting certain needs designed to keep someone safe, but neglecting their overall quality of life. The Judgment also makes it very clear that if a thorough and full consultation process is not carried out when considering proposed cuts to services to disabled adults, the courts will quash the policy.”

“The Judge has ruled that the consultation the Council undertook did not involve proper consideration of the practical detail of what the move to this new policy would entail even it was deemed lawful, and the Council had very little information about the impact that this would have on people’s lives before it when it took this decision.

“The reality is that the Council simply did not know what the effects would be - other than how much money would be saved – and so the Court has declared the Council also to be in breach of its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.”

The Isle of Wight Council launched the consultation exercise into its eligibility policy as part of plans aimed at reducing the amount of money it spends on adult social care of approximately £1.6m. The consultation ended on 14 January 2011 and the plans were approved by the Council at two separate meetings in February 2011. It was thought that up to 2,000 disabled people on the Isle of Wight could lose all or parts of their social care packages currently provided by the Council as a result of the proposed changes.

The successful application for a judicial review means the Isle of Wight Council will be forced to put back in place the services that were cut under the new policy and to continue providing services for those with ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’ needs until such time as it decides to retake its decision.

The ruling also considered for the first time the lawfulness of local authorities trying to tighten and ‘split’ the Fair Access to Care Services bands for social care eligibility. The judgement will be closely looked at by local authorities across the country.

Alex Rook commented:

“This is a hugely important victory not just for the two individuals involved in this case, but also for the thousands of other people who may have been affected on the Isle of Wight and for families across the country wondering if their council was also going to cut services in the same way.

“Our clients and their families rely heavily on this care and it would have represented a huge backward step if the care support was removed. It will also clarify the law for every authority through England and Wales if they consider taking similar steps as it is now clear that, with the exception of life-saving treatment, all needs that come within a Council’s eligibility are of equal importance. This could be the prevention of abuse or neglect, support with personal care, access to education or work or support to maintain family and other relationships.

“Ultimately, authorities considering making further cuts can’t just do so by withdrawing support in areas it considers to be less significant. The Courts have upheld the position that they are obliged to go beyond just keeping people safe.”

Alex Rook
Associate, London