Two disabled men have won a high court case that challenged a local authority’s cuts to their support.
Isle of Wight Council planned to save £2.5 million a year through a tightening of eligibility for support and increased charges, which campaigners feared could have seen 2,000 disabled people on the island lose some or all of their support.
The case is just the latest in a series of high-profile judicial reviews of decisions by public bodies to cut spending and services in the wake of the government’s deficit reduction plan.
The latest case challenged the decision to restrict eligibility, which Isle of Wight Council had estimated would save about £1.5 million a year.
The council wanted to fully fund support only for those with “critical” needs and provide “targeted support” to those whose needs risked becoming critical, rather than fully funding those with both substantial and critical needs.
Lawyers for the two men – who both have autism and high support needs – argued at the high court in London that there were failures in the council’s consultation process and a lack of clarity over exactly how the changes would affect disabled people.
The judge, Mrs Justice Lang, concluded that the council’s new eligibility policy was unlawful.
She also ruled that the council had failed to have “due regard” to the need to promote disability equality under the Disability Discrimination Act, and that its consultation document had not provided enough information for service-users and their families to understand how the changes would affect them.
The document failed to provide any detail about how many people’s support would be cut, or about the costs and potential savings, or what types of services would or would not be included under the revised criteria.
Alex Rook, from lawyers Irwin Mitchell, which represented the two men, said the ruling would provide “comfort and peace of mind” to thousands of disabled people on the island, and deliver a “very clear message to all councils in England and Wales”.
He said: “If a council seeks to make cuts to its budget for adult social care, it cannot do so by only meeting certain needs designed to keep someone safe, but neglecting their overall quality of life.
“Ultimately, authorities considering making further cuts can’t just do so by withdrawing support in areas they consider to be less significant. The courts have upheld the position that they are obliged to go beyond just keeping people safe.”
He added: “The judgment also makes it very clear that if a thorough and full consultation process is not carried out when considering proposed cuts to services to disabled adults, the courts will quash the policy.”
The council will now reinstate the services that were cut under the new eligibility policy and continue providing support for those with “critical” and “substantial” needs until it can draw up a new policy.
The council, which claimed it “genuinely sought to undertake a thorough and proper process of consultation”, said it would not appeal.
It added: “We accept the judge’s decision that that we did not provide sufficient information and that, in our attempts to explain what was a complex decision, we unintentionally breached some elements of the guidance.
“We will immediately comply with the judge’s ruling and return to the previous eligibility threshold whilst we consider our next steps.”
But the council stressed that its new charging policy for adult social care remained unaffected by the judgement.
16 November 2011