Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team recently acted on behalf of a disabled child, who has a diagnosis of high functioning autism and whose mother sought to challenge the policy of Manchester City Council to implement new eligibility criteria for disabled children. The criteria limited the level of support provided to children identified as having “some support needs” to the equivalent of £750 per year - equivalent to around one hour of care per fortnight. In our client’s case this would not provide the level of support both he and his family needed. Short breaks can include activities such as swimming and horse riding, which it would not be feasible to undertake with the level of support being offered.
Our client faced serious detriment as a result of this decision and his condition also impacted on his parents, who faced significant strain on their relationship as a result of the pressures of caring for him. Weekly short breaks would not only provide an opportunity for him to interact with other children, but would further ease the pressure on his family at home.
Irwin Mitchell challenged Manchester City Council's policy and contended that the eligibility criteria were unlawful because the Council had a duty to meet children's assessed needs and it was therefore unlawful for the local authority to cap provision of children with ‘some support needs’ to the value of £750 per year. Under s.17 of the Children Act 1989 local authorities have a duty to meet the needs of disabled children and this cannot be restricted by an arbitrary cost cap.
After judicial review proceedings were issued, Manchester City Council published a 'clarification' to its policy, which effectively amended the policy to remove the £750 cap. The new document makes clear that there is “no such cap” and that the eligibility criteria must be applied flexibly in order to establish whether an amount higher than £750 is appropriate to meet the child's needs. The text of the Council's clarification can be found here: http://www.manchester.gov.uk/egov_downloads/18_January_2012_2_.pdf
This concession by Manchester City Council is a victory for disabled children and their families, who will now have the benefit of a policy which is flexible and capable of meeting disabled children's needs. Families who are told that £750 per year is the most that will be offered can now point to this change in the Council's policy if they feel that this is insufficient to meet their child's needs. If families in this situation continue to be told that they are not entitled to more than £750 per year they are should take legal advice about their position.
If you would like further information on this case, or would like to discuss similar issues further please contact Mathieu Culverhouse on: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0370 1500 100.
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