A landmark legal case could help thousands of disabled adults who are not receiving the care and support they need from their local authority.
The case – which could be heard as early as July – is being taken on behalf of five young disabled people, all with high support needs, against West Berkshire Council.
The local authority is one of only three in England that restricts council-funded care to those with critical needs – the highest of the four eligibility bands.
Proceedings have been issued on behalf of the five young people by Irwin Mitchell, the same legal firm that last year won two high-profile court actions, against Birmingham and Isle of Wight councils, both of which had wanted to move towards providing care only to those with “critical needs”.
Those two cases succeeded because the councils had failed in their duties to consult properly or meet their obligations under the Equality Act.
But the case against West Berkshire could prove even more significant, with lawyers set to argue that restricting care to disabled people with critical needs is itself illegal, breaching section two of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
If their case is successful, no local authority will be able to maintain or introduce a “critical-only” policy.
Alex Rook, the Irwin Mitchell lawyer acting for the five young people, said a victory would “draw a line in the sand” for disabled people across the country, ensuring that no-one with substantial needs could be deprived of council support.
He said the case was even more important than the victories against Birmingham and Isle of Wight councils.
The critical-only policy means potentially that thousands of disabled people in West Berkshire are missing out on receiving the care and support they need, including those who have been neglected or abused, or cannot carry out most of their personal care themselves.
Rook said: “Many severely disabled people across the country rely heavily on the support that is offered by social care services, but not all of those people fall under the umbrella of what is deemed ‘critical’.
“This policy in West Berkshire leaves our clients and possibly thousands of others both potentially vulnerable to harm and isolated from their local communities.”
West Berkshire Council declined to comment.
17 May 2012