Families Fight to Stop Cuts to Short Breaks for Disabled Children Will Continue To The Court of Appeal
The High Court has today handed down Judgment in the first Judicial Review to consider local authorities’ duties to disabled children following the reforms brought in under the new Children and Families Act on 1 September 2014.
The Claimants, two disabled children known as L and P, instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to seek a judicial review against Warwickshire County Council’s proposed Local Offer consultation, which included changes to disabled children’s social care and new criteria for accessing assessments and services.
These proposals were introduced following a decision made by the Council back in February 2013 to make target savings of £1.786m from its budget for disabled children's services. Since then, the Claimants’ families alongside a group of local parents have been lobbying the Council to try and secure a fair and transparent consultation on the Council’s plans to reduce expenditure – which involve severely restricting access to Short Breaks, a service which provides essential support for disabled children and their families.
Under government reforms introduced on 1 September 2014, local authorities are now required to have a “Local Offer” which sets out in one place information on services across education, health and social care and from birth to 25; how to access specialist support; how decisions are made including eligibility criteria for accessing services where appropriate; and how to complain or appeal. One of its purposes is to make provision more responsive to local needs by directly involving children and young people and their parents in its development.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell argued on behalf of the Claimant’s that the Council’s Local Offer which has been published for consultation, and which includes its plans for reducing access to Short Breaks for disabled children, was unlawful as its content does not comply with the basic requirements laid down by the law.
Mr Justice Mostyn, sitting in the High Court, found that Warwickshire’s Local Offer was deficient as it fell “a considerable distance short of the statutory requirements”.
In addition, the Judge found that Warwickshire Council were in breach of their legal duty maintain a single register of disabled children, commenting that “plainly unless this local authority has such a register and knows more or less precisely how many disabled children there are in the county it cannot make a fully informed decision about budgetary allocation or as to the terms of a proposed Local Offer.”
However, the Court refused to allow the Claimant’s permission in relation to its other grounds relating to its proposed new social care policy and the reduction in funding that the new policy will implement, finding that there had been no breach of any duty to consult with the families on these issues. In addition, Mr Justice Mostyn rejected the Claimant’s arguments that Warwickshire’s proposals were unlawful as they denied disabled children the automatic right to a social work assessment and instead required families to prove that their disabled child’s needs were very complex in order to access an assessment.
Polly Sweeney, an Associate Solicitor in the Public Law team at Irwin Mitchell representing the families, said:
Expert OpinionWe are pleased that the Court has accepted our arguments regarding the lawfulness of the Defendant's Local Offer and hope that this Judgment sends out a message to local authorities that they have to take their new duties introduced under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 seriously.
“The Court also emphasised the importance of local authorities having a register of disabled children so they can plan properly for budgets and services to support them. However, we are very disappointed that the Court has ruled that disabled children are not automatically entitled to a social care assessment and we are concerned that this Judgment will leave disabled children across the country in a vulnerable position without access to proper assessments.
“We also remain of the view that the Defendant has not consulted properly on its final proposals to limit access to social care services. We intend to apply to renew our application on these grounds to the Court of Appeal.” Polly Sweeney - Partner
Ian Wise and Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers were instructed as counsel for the claimants.
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