ILF judicial review: DWP ‘misled public’ over local government support


theweek120by150Research by disabled activists suggests that the government misled MPs and the public about the level of support among local authorities for the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The results of the research by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have played a central role in this week’s judicial review of how the government responded to a consultation on its plans to close ILF in 2015.

Five ILF-users have been taking on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the high court, arguing that its consultation was unlawful and so its decision to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs – should be reversed.

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, confirmed last year that ILF would close in April 2015, with non-ring-fenced funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But there is overwhelming opposition to the closure among disabled people, with many believing that it threatens their right to independent living.

DPAC’s research saw councils asked – via Freedom of Information (FoI) Act requests – how they had responded to the consultation.

DWP claimed in its response to the consultation that “most councils… expressed strong support for the proposal in principle”, but DPAC says the FoI material shows that that was a “total misrepresentation”.

At least nine of about 80 councils that responded to the consultation in writing appear to have opposed the government’s plans, while many more expressed grave reservations.

The FoI material seems to show that only one of the local authorities agreed with the government that the funding should not be ring-fenced, while the vast majority told DWP it had not provided them with enough information to answer its consultation properly.

A significant number of the councils said they believed the government’s plans would result in disabled people ending up in residential care.

Aberdeen council, one of the councils that said it opposed closure, stated in its consultation response: “It is not an attractive proposition for local authorities when the impact on individuals is considered.”

Barking and Dagenham council told the government: “The consultation document appears to suggest that funding for individuals would not be maintained at current levels and this will have a devastating impact on individuals’ lives.”

And Conservative-run Hertfordshire County Council said: “No we do not agree with this proposal.”

It added: “Local authorities are having to apply eligibility criteria with increasing rigor and there is a fear that people’s funding will have to be reduced to the minimum amount required to ‘maintain’ their lives rather than supporting full and active lives, including support with employment.”

Another Conservative council, Cheshire West and Chester, also refused to back closing ILF and devolving the money to local authorities. It said that DWP’s consultation paper “leaves too many questions unanswered”.

The five claimants are asking the high court to quash the decision to close ILF. Judgment in the case has been reserved, and is expected within four weeks.

14 March 2013