Three court of appeal judges unanimously upheld the appeal, which challenged a ruling by the high court that the decision to close the fund in 2015 was legal.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will now have to rethink the closure decision, although ministers have yet to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court, make a fresh decision to close the fund, or accept defeat and keep it open.
The legal challenge was brought by five disabled people – Anne Pridmore, Gabriel Pepper, Stuart Bracking, Paris L’Amour, and John Aspinall – who were represented by lawyers from Deighton Pierce Glynn and Scott Moncrieff and Associates.
The five claimants believe that closing ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, by topping up their local authority-funded support – threatens their right to independent living.
The judges ruled that Esther McVey – at the time the minister for disabled people – had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty when making the decision to close the fund in December 2012.
Bracking said the judgment was “a victory for those disabled people’s organisations such as Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts who have campaigned consistently in defence of the ILF-users and their families during the last two years”.
He said: “It will hopefully give the disabled people’s movement confidence, and act as a catalyst for our organisations to work together to intensify the campaign and demand the closure of the fund is stopped, and it is given a long-term future open to new applicants with adequate levels of funding.”
He called for the large disability charities that had so far appeared ambivalent about saving ILF to now oppose closure and “demand a long-term future for the fund”.
He added: “There is no fence for them to sit on anymore on this issue.”
Sue Elsegood, an ILF recipient for more than 20 years and a close friend of two of the claimants in the case, said organisations of disabled people had provided the main impetus for the campaign to save ILF from closure.
She said: “Some of the larger charities should have come on board earlier to support us. I think perhaps that because they are not run by disabled people they are removed from the realities of our lives. I hope in the future they will support the movement.”
She said she believed the judgment would provide fresh impetus to the disabled people’s movement.
She said: “I think we need to defend our independent living and fight for our rights which we have campaigned for for decades.
“I hope this will give people in the disability movement the motivation to come together and to continue the fight.”
The singer John Kelly, an ILF-user who was in court 63 of the Royal Courts of Justice as the judge read out the ruling, said: “I think this will help to make us as a disability movement proud that we are fighting with the right arguments and that we can win.
“We can take this fight on and turn it into a movement that empowers us, that makes us proud.”
He added: “This is individual disabled people coming together as a strong voice. I just feel in general that everyone needs to shout about this much louder than they have been.
“We are a proud people, we contribute, we make a difference to the society we live in. The government needs to recognise that.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said she was “very proud of the supporting role” played by her organisation in the campaign to save ILF, as well as the support it had given ILF-users.
Lazard said: “This is a real victory and the government should take note. This is disabled people fighting back and they need to genuinely consider our rights and the impact that their decisions are having.”
She said she hoped the victory would be a “moment of reflection” for the big disability charities. “The charities have dismissed the ILF as dead in the water and we have shown that that is not the case.”
7 November 2013