Family Say They Have Been ‘Vindicated’ Following A ‘Victory For Common Sense’
A council has performed a U-Turn over plans to reduce a disabled woman’s care package following a successful legal challenge.
A family from Stockport who challenged a council’s Direct Payment Policy which saw their daughter’s care reduced have seen the council reverse its decisions following a legal challenge.
Stockport Council reviewed the package and support plan it provided to the 36-year-old woman who is autistic with severe learning difficulties and Turner syndrome, in 2021. A decision was taken under the council’s new Direct Payment Policy to reduce her care provision, which her family said would mean weekend visits with her would be impossible.
The family was also told they had used some past direct payments for their daughter incorrectly and received a final notice requesting repayment.
After facing increased social care charges the family withheld payment for all charges pending the outcome of the dispute. The family received three final notices and threat of Court Action, which caused great distress and they felt compelled to pay the relevant invoices immediately.
The family from Stockport, who do not wish to be named, instructed specialist public law and human rights lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to challenge the decisions made by the Council. The mum and dad said the decisions were having a devastating impact on their daughter’s quality of life, having seen the arrangements in place since 2008 withdrawn.
Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell wrote to the Council, urging it to reverse the decisions, or potentially face a judicial review in the High Court.
The Council has now performed a U-Turn, withdrawing the new Direct Payments Policy and reinstating the woman’s original care package, pending further review. The bills for social care have now been reduced for Disability Related Expenditure and backdated to November 2021.
The family and campaigners have welcomed the decision, while lawyers say the case could have wider implications for others who have seen direct payments withdrawn in similar circumstances.
Expert Opinion“The news that Stockport Council has reversed its decision to change our client’s care arrangements is a victory for her and her family.
“The family’s determination to challenge the Council’s decisions could now have far reaching implications, opening the door to others facing similar decisions in respect of direct payments.
“By refusing to reinstate her direct payment and continuing to apply the new Direct Payment Policy, the council was failing to meet her assessed needs. With the new policy withdrawn, our client will once again have the lifeline of maintaining contact with her family at weekends.
“The family feel strongly that a proper review was not undertaken and were distressed by the demand for the payments to be returned, which were all spent in line with statutory guidance in the Care Act. These will now be fully refunded.
“We’re proud to have supported the family in a fight to secure their daughter’s rights, who will now have the assessed mix of independence and care she needs in order to live a full life.” Mathieu Culverhouse - Partner
The family’s daughter, 36, is autistic with severe learning difficulties and has Turner syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Having lived with her parents until she was 20, she became hard for her parents to manage alone, and initial emergency placement became long term in 2005.
By 2013, her support package included five days of days supported tenancy in her own home plus direct payments to enable her to return to the family home, with support, at the weekend.
A review of the support plan was arranged in 2021 and the council decided direct payments allowing contact with her parents and supportive family and friends at the weekend couldn’t continue, with suggestions these amounted to ‘double funding’, rather than the supporting the care necessary to ensure her needs were met.
The family complained in December 2021. The council said the Direct Payment Policy had recently changed, and the review was in line with the new policy. Furthermore, the council claimed the family had misused some past direct payments and had to repay them.
The council’s new Direct Payments Policy imposed a total ban on leisure activities and accessing the community, in direct breach of Care and Support Eligibility Criteria regulations, lawyers argued. This means the family had spent the payments correctly, and in line with statutory guidance.
The woman’s parents said: “This has been such a distressing time for our daughter and the wider family. We’re all just relieved it has been settled and that our daughter can continue to receive the care she needs and the family visits that make up such an important part of her life.
“The review was a surprise given the last one was 2013 and it seemed little to do with our daughter’s best interests and more to do with saving money. It was so distressing to be accused of misusing payments and the disruption to our daughter’s life left us with no choice but to seek legal advice.
“This complete U-Turn by the council has vindicated us and while we’re pleased with the outcome, this should never have happened in the first place. Hopefully now we can put this behind us and work on ensuring our wonderful daughter has the best quality of life she can.”
Kieran McMahon, former CEO of Disability Stockport, said: “Not only is this a victory for the families and individuals concerned, but also a victory for common sense and fairness.
“Direct Payments and the Care Act were primarily introduced to give people the choice to make sensible decisions about how they are supported and provided for. This has been a major principle underlying the modernisation of services and inclusion for individuals and families.
“To take these options away or to restrict them drastically was very much a retrograde step. Not only does this disempower people, but it greatly reduces innovation in social care.
“I trust the local authority will go back to a more inclusive approach to policy development and fully engage the community as principal stakeholders, as they have done in previous years. This will enable better focus for solutions to finance and other constraints and also encourage greater participation and cooperation for everyone.”