The government has finally bowed to demands from MPs and campaigners to introduce the first national system that will allow disabled and older people to appeal against being turned down for council-funded care and support.
The Liberal Democrat care and support minister Norman Lamb announced during the final day’s debate on the committee stage of the care bill that – following a consultation last year – he was introducing a clause that would give the government power to develop “detailed proposals” for an appeals system.
He said it was “important that individuals have confidence in the system, and that they are able to challenge decisions without having to resort to judicial review”.
Lamb said the government had “heard clearly through the consultation that an appeals system should have an element of independence from the local authority to give people confidence that the appeals process is fair and unbiased”.
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow care and support minister, said she and her colleagues had been “pressing” for an appeals system.
She said: “There has been concern that under the new system, with more people being assessed, with a new type of assessment regime, with the complicated system of the new cap on care costs, and with people questioning what they are paid and how far they have gone to meet the cap, more people would raise concerns and make appeals.
“We do not want to end up resorting to judicial review. We want a proper process of appeal for this new – in some ways simpler; in some ways, certainly on the finance side, more complicated – system of assessment.”
Although many local authorities operated their own three-stage appeals processes in past years, they were not legally obliged to do so – with the government only offering guidance on how they should be run – and many were withdrawn in recent years alongside cutbacks to care and support funding.
This left disabled and older people with just one option: to attempt a judicial review of their council’s decision through the courts.
Sue Bott, director of policy and development for Disability Rights UK, said the appeal move was “very welcome” and should drive up decision-making standards within local authorities and avoid the cost of using the court system, which was “expensive and lengthy”.
She said: “A lot of grief will be solved if people have a right to appeal because I think it is taking a rather short-sighted attitude to not have an appeals system.
“With the best will in the world, sometimes poor decisions are taken so it is right that disabled people should have some form of redress.
“This is a very significant area in a lot of disabled people’s lives so it is only right that public services and decision-makers are held to account.”
But she added: “It remains to be seen how it works in practice. I welcome the intention that there is in the bill but we will have to wait and see what is in the regulations.
“Certainly I will be doing what I can to make sure that what is in the regulations is a good scheme and a workable scheme.”
Meanwhile, peers have finished their examination of the children and families bill, which now returns to the Commons on Monday (10 February) so that MPs can debate amendments added in the Lords.
The bill introduces a range of major reforms across adoption, family justice, and the special educational needs (SEN) system, including new health and care plans for disabled children and young people, which will last from birth to the age of 25, replacing statements of SEN.
But the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) warned that the bill would remove “crucial legal protections that enable children and young people with SEN to be included in mainstream education”.
It said this would make it easier for mainstream schools -with local authority support – to move children and young people with SEN into special schools, “completing bypassing the SEN legal framework”.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said David Cameron’s government had broken his promise to parents of disabled children before the 2010 general election that he would “never do anything to make it more difficult for children to go to a mainstream school”.
She said it was “shameful” that the government had broken this promise, and added: “The government promise of choice is nothing more than hollow rhetoric – there is no choice – SEN children and young people will no longer have a right to mainstream education.
“The bill will result in a mass exodus of SEN children and young people from mainstream education, never to return.”
6 February 2014