A disabled people’s organisation is considering legal action against its local council over its failure to consult properly on plans to make deep cuts to care services.
Disability Equality (nw) (DENW) has pledged to support disabled people willing to take a court case against Lancashire County Council, but is also considering taking legal action itself.
As well as the consultation failure, DENW says the council has not carried out a proper assessment of the impact of the cuts on disabled people, breaching its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
DENW has been in discussions with lawyers Irwin Mitchell, which is advising disabled people and carers with similar concerns in “seven or eight” local authority areas in England.
One is the sister of a woman with learning difficulties, who is seeking a judicial review of what she says is Birmingham City Council’s breach of its disability equality duties, including its failure to conduct a proper consultation over planned cuts, and a breach of her right to a private life under the Human Rights Act.
The city council plans to stop providing care to people with “substantial” needs, restricting it only to those with critical personal care needs. If approved, it will be the first council to apply such a “critical-plus” eligibility threshold.
Yogi Amin, a partner with Irwin Mitchell, said he believes there will be even more legal challenges brought against local authorities by disabled people, as councils make their final decisions on spending cuts, particularly against those that decide to restrict eligibility for care services.
He said many councils had failed to consult properly on cuts to care services, or carry our proper impact assessments.
Among the cuts proposed in Lancashire, the council wants to raise the eligibility threshold from “moderate” to “substantial”, saving £2.5 million a year for the next two years; cut spending on personal budgets and home care by £12 million over three years; and increase revenue from charging by more than £5.5 million over four years.
Melanie Close, chief executive of DENW, said Lancashire County Council published plans for deep spending cuts to adult care while it was still consulting with disabled people about changes to services.
She said: “We can’t stay quiet while we know what they are doing is wrong and while it affects so many disabled people. They should have taken into account that consultation before they made the budget cuts.”
Close said she was “encouraged” by two recent court victories that have forced public bodies to rethink plans to reduce spending because of their failure to assess how the cuts would affect disabled people and other minority groups, and to carry out proper consultations.
She said such court cases were “inevitable”, and added: “They are all making very rash decisions about people’s lives and services based on money. Disability legislation is there for a reason.”
Lancashire County Council said it believed it had not breached its duties under the relevant legislation, and had carried out a full consultation, while the equality impact assessments of the proposals would be completed now the consultation had finished.
Birmingham City Council declined to comment for legal reasons.
2 March 2011