Disabled people facing ‘rocketing’ charges for support


New evidence suggests disabled people across England are facing “rocketing” fees for the support they receive at home from their council.

The “snapshot study” of 15 councils – carried out by Disability Alliance for the Coalition on Charging – also found that some local authorities appear to be ignoring their legal obligations around their charging policies.

The study found that six local authorities – Hertfordshire, Lewisham, Oldham, Westminster, Stoke on Trent and Richmond – have removed their maximum hourly fees for support at home.

Another six councils – Derby, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire and Bolton – reported steep rises to their hourly rates of between nine and 78 per cent. Only one of the 15 councils – Poole – reported a fall in hourly rates.

Derby City Council will now be charging disabled people £14.22 per hour, compared with a previous rate of £8 per hour, with Warwickshire County Council increasing charges from £9.66 per hour to £16.45.

Seven of the councils have removed their weekly limit on the amount disabled people can be asked to pay for support, with another five imposing sharp increases.

The coalition said some councils also appeared to be overlooking their legal duty to “meaningfully engage” service-users on changes to charging policy, with disabled people “reporting high increases without adequate warning”.

Some councils are failing to take proper account of “disability related expenditure” – such as equipment and extra transport costs and higher utility bills – in calculating a disabled person’s ability to pay a charge.

And some councils are failing to help disabled people find alternative sources of support, another legal duty.

Neil Coyle, chair of the Coalition on Charging and director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said: “Councils seeking to generate income following government cuts are ignoring the potential longer-term costs of limiting support to disabled people.

“Rising charges disincentivise service use and may result in a rise in more expensive service use, like residential care.”

A Department of Health (DH) spokeswoman said: “The coalition government recently allocated an additional £2 billion a year by 2014 to support social care and to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“This funding should enable local authorities to protect people’s access to services and deliver new approaches to improve their care.”

The research was published as DA announced a new partnership with the legal firm Unity Law, which specialises in disability discrimination cases.

Coyle said the two organisations may seek to challenge a council in court for breaching care or equality law obligations in its charging policies.

Disabled people concerned about changes in their council-funded support or disability discrimination can contact Disability Alliance or Unity Law.

Meanwhile, care services minister Paul Burstow has announced plans to strengthen the law around direct payments.

The DH said it would consult on the plans, which would “ensure councils make clear to every person entitled to care and support how they can make use of a direct payment”, and force councils to make a note of decisions taken when direct payments are being discussed.

A DH spokeswoman said: “Some councils are excelling with the roll out of personal budgets, but others are lagging behind and we hope that strengthening the legislation in this area, and issuing a direction to councils, will ensure progress is more evenly spread.”

14 April 2011