Families Of Disabled Children Take Council To Court Over Major Cut To Short Breaks Services

Public Law Experts Irwin Mitchell Start Court Proceedings To Challenge West Berkshire Council Over “Unlawful” Budget Cuts


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The families of two severely disabled children say they will face social isolation if the cuts to short breaks by their local authority go ahead.

The families of a 14-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl from Newbury, known only as DAT and BNM, have instructed public law experts Irwin Mitchell to take on West Berkshire Council (WBC) over the cuts, which will see the budget for short breaks services provided by voluntary sector organisations slashed by 54 per cent. The decision was made at a meeting of WBC on March 1.

The law firm has started judicial review proceedings to challenge West Berkshire Council on the basis that the £225,000 funding reduction is unlawful, including breaching the Breaks For Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011, which are designed to safeguard the needs of carers who would be better able to care for their disabled child more effectively if short breaks are provided.

DAT, who has autism and a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called William’s Syndrome, requires around the clock care. He cannot wash or dress himself, get food or drink for himself and cannot be left unsupervised.

The teenager’s parents, who have three other children, rely on “life-saving” short breaks services to enable their son not only to have meaningful social experiences, but to give them a much needed break to spend quality time with his siblings and each other.

“These services offer DAT support that we cannot provide him ourselves, because they allow him to socialise with his peers. Without this he’ll be completely socially isolated,” said his mother.

“The council doesn’t understand how their cuts will affect disabled children and their carers and have done little to try to understand. Even the consultation documents simply say that the leftover funding will be used to support the services most valued by families. There doesn’t seem to have been any analysis of what those are and what that means for those trying to survive without that life-saving support.”

At the moment, DAT benefits from a care package funded by the council, including short breaks and weekend clubs from West Berkshire Mencap, Crossroads Care Oxfordshire, Castle Gate and Guide Post. This package enables him to visit the Mencap centre to play games with other disabled children, go swimming, on walks, and day trips to the zoo. It also pays for him to attend holiday clubs during school breaks, giving his parents and siblings a break from their 24-hour caring schedule.

BNM is eight years old and has autism, ADHD, epilepsy and cortical dysplasia, a brain malformation in the part of the brain responsible for emotional and impulse control. BNM’s mother says that as a result of her conditions BNM is incredibly volatile and can be violent. She requires constant attention by her family and carers.

The girl’s parents rely on short breaks services to give BNM the opportunity to play with children her own age and so they can spend quality time with their 12-year-old son.

“These services are what keep the family together,” said BNM's mother.

“Without these same services, the impact on the family would be devastating – particularly for our son. The strain on the whole family will be hard for us to cope with.

I find it very distressing that the council didn’t take into account all of these consequences before it took its decision to cut its funding to providers. It just didn’t seem to consider properly what would happen on the ground if the cuts went ahead.”

At the moment, BNM benefits from a care package funded by West Berkshire Council including after an school club and holiday playschemes from West Berkshire Mencap. The short breaks give BNM the structure she needs outside of school and gives the family peace of mind that she is having fun with other children in a safe space with properly trained staff.

West Berkshire Council slashed the funding for disabled children’s respite services from £415,000 in 2015/16 to just £190,000 for 2016/17. As a result, DAT and BNM will no longer be able to access the same level of services as they did before.

Expert Opinion
“This announcement obviously struck quite a blow to DAT and BNM’s families as the services they currently enjoy will be reduced starting this summer. It appears that they will be no like for like alternatives available to them locally.

“DAT and BNM’s parents are desperately worried about this decision because these services are vital to B and E’s well-being, so they are very concerned that their children would become socially isolated when the services are reduced or closed.

“Reducing the services would also have a profound impact on DAT and BNM’s families as they use the time afforded by these services to spend quality time with their other children. The short breaks alone are critical in making DAT and BNM’s parents’ caring role sustainable.

“We have invited the council to reverse its decision and to think again after having assessed the sufficiency of vital short breaks for families in West Berkshire. We have also asked that they consider applying a modest amount from its reserves to prevent cutting short breaks services.

The 3,694-signature petition by local people shows the strength of opposition across the borough to these cuts.”

“There is no evidence West Berkshire Council properly analysed the level of demand for children’s short breaks services or what services will be available to meet this demand with a reduced budget of £190,000 for 2016/17. Nor is there proper and lawful consideration as to whether the council will be providing a sufficient range of day-time care, overnight care, educational or leisure activities, and services to assist carers in the evenings, weekends or school holidays as the law requires.”
Alice Cullingworth, Solicitor

Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers is instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimants.

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