Families Of Disabled Children Granted Permission For Judicial Review Of Council Cuts To Short Breaks

Public law experts Irwin Mitchell proceeding with High Court challenge against West Berkshire Council over “unlawful” budget cuts


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The families of two severely disabled children have been granted permission to proceed with a judicial review into local authority cuts to short breaks services, which they say will leave their children socially isolated.

The families of a 14-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl from Newbury, known only as DAT and BNM, 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 52 per cent. The decision was made at a meeting of WBC on March 1 this year.

Irwin Mitchell applied to the High Court for a judicial review on the basis that the £215,000 funding reduction is unlawful as it breaches a number of legal duties including those in 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.

The final hearing will take place on 22 and 23 June at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

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.

“We’re obviously thrilled to have the opportunity to take this matter higher,” said DAT’s mother.

“These services offer DAT support that we cannot provide him ourselves, because they allow him to socialise with his peers. Without short breaks he’ll be completely socially isolated. They really are life-saving, not just for him but for the family as a whole.”

“I hope the judicial review will demonstrate exactly what’s at stake and force the council to rethink its decision to cut funding to such important services.”

At the moment, DAT benefits from a care package funded by West Berkshire 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. 

“It was incredibly distressing for us that the council didn’t take into account all of these consequences before it took its decision to cut its funding to providers. I just hope that by taking matters to the High Court, the right decision will be made for the sake of our children and the many others who so heavily rely on these precious services.”

At the moment, BNM benefits from a care package funded by West Berkshire Council including an after school club and holiday play schemes 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 £200,000 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
“It’s very encouraging that DAT and BNM have been granted permission to proceed with a judicial review so that the High Court can determine the lawfulness of these cuts.

“As things stand, the funding decision has already been implemented and with the summer holidays on the horizon this will be when families will start feeling the worst effects of the cuts.

“Before starting court proceedings we 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. Now that permission has been granted by the High Court, we have written to the council once more to ask it to think again and avoid incurring any more legal costs defending the claim. We hope the council will reconsider funding for these services, which provide many families with disabled children as normal a family life as possible.”
Alice Cullingworth, Solicitor

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

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