Activists are calling on disabled people’s organisations and campaigners around the country to ensure that their local authorities closely examine their care charging policies, following a vital court ruling.
They are concerned at the growing variations across the country in how much local authorities are charging disabled people for their non-residential care and support, and the minimum amount of income that service-users are left to live on after any charges.
They and others believe there is a growing trend of councils raising charges for care and support to make up for inadequate central government funding and the continuing failure to reform social care.
They want councils to check that their policies are in line with the high-profile court ruling.
One of the groups helping to build campaigning across England is Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts (Cheshire DPAC).
It has challenged one of its local authorities, Cheshire West and Chester Council, over the action it took in response to the high court ruling last December.
The ruling found that Norfolk County Council had breached the rights of a disabled woman with high support needs, known in the case as SH, by discriminating against her when it changed its care charging policy.
Norfolk had reduced the minimum amount of income that SH and others must be left to live on after any charges – the minimum income guarantee (MIG) – and took into account the daily living part of their personal independence payment, when deciding how much to charge them for their care and support.
But the council’s policy meant that SH and other disabled people in her situation with high support needs had a higher proportion of their income taken by the council than disabled people receiving lower benefits and those who were able to do paid work.
Cheshire DPAC has been pushing Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaCC), through a freedom of information request, to find out what legal advice it received in the wake of that ruling.
The council has now decided it is exempt from releasing this advice under the Freedom of Information Act.
Former town councillor Helen Rowlands, a co-founder of Cheshire DPAC, resigned from the Labour party in March over the Labour-run council’s decision to make savings of more than £1 million in its provision of care services in 2021-22.
CWaCC pledged to ensure that it was “only funding social care services that the Council has a statutory duty to provide” and said it would raise “additional income through the implementation of the non-residential charging policy”.
Cheshire DPAC believes that local authorities across the country may be failing to assess the impact of last December’s court ruling on their care charging policies.
Rowlands said: “Marilyn Heath of JRIMG Norfolk contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government asking for MIG details and disability related expenses systems in each local authority and was told central government do not have those details.
“This seems to Cheshire DPAC to be about preventing widespread awareness of the inequity at the heart of social care charging in England.
“We are working collectively with our campaign partners JRIMG Norfolk, Inclusion London, Bringing Us Together, Adult Social Care Warriors and DPAC nationally to shine a light on this, and to fight for an end to care charging – which is a tax on disability.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said: “Social care and support for independent living should be free at the point of need for all, and if a council like Hammersmith and Fulham can still provide social care free then we can see no reason why other local authorities also can’t do that.
“The charges made on disabled people seem completely random and when people complain about their charging, they can get large reductions in their proposed charges, often as much as 50 per cent.
“Whether this means local authorities actually have no systematic way of deciding what to charge people and simply try to charge as much as possible remains to be seen.
“We know that council budgets have been slashed but rather than taxing people for becoming older or disabled it is time that councils, especially Labour-led ones, stood up and fought against those cuts more effectively.
“We are urging everyone to join with on-going campaigning against care charging.
“More information on how to do this is available from DPAC, Inclusion London, JRIMG, Bringing Us Together or Adult Social Care Warriors on Facebook.”
Marilyn Heath, from JRIMG Norfolk, said it seemed “unreasonable” that the government had brought in the MIG scheme – which sets a minimum level but allows councils to set their own rates at or above that – rather than providing sufficient funding for local authorities, and then failed to monitor how this had been implemented.
She said that this had led to, at best, a “postcode lottery for charges for care for working-age disabled people” and at worst the kind of discrimination seen in Norfolk.
A CWaCC spokesperson said the council had refused to release the legal advice because it believed it was protected “under legal professional privilege”.
But she said that the council had “fully reviewed the [Norfolk] judgement” and believed that its own non-residential charging policy was “fully compliant” with legislation, and that no changes had been made because of the Norfolk ruling, while MIG rates had not changed since the court ruling, although care charges had increased “in line with annual review procedures”.
She said: “As is the picture nationally, the council continues to face significant pressure in meeting its statutory responsibilities relating to adult social care due to the continued rising costs and demand for adult social care, as well as the need to ensure a sustainable provider market.”
She added: “In recognition of this, the council has used its powers to raise council tax in 2021-22 by an additional three per cent via the adult social care precept.
“The additional funding raised through the precept in 2021-22 will be £5.8 million which will only partially address the cost pressures faced, which are estimated to be in the region of £12 million, as set out in the council’s 2021-22 budget report.
“In order to fund the pressures of £12 million, the council will also be reinvesting funding released through planned efficiencies within adult social care back in to adult social care services – this will ensure that the cost pressures within adult social care are funded whilst also ensuring that the council meets its legal obligation to set a balanced budget each year.”
Cheshire DPAC is urging other campaigners to send freedom of information requests to their local councils in England to find out if they have reviewed their charging policies since the Norfolk ruling and what legal advice they have received on the judgment.
They also want campaigners to ask their local authority for their minimum income guarantee rates and how these have changed in the past 24 months*.
The results of these freedom of information responses will be collated to see how care charges and MIG rates are varying across England**.
*For a template letter, message Cheshire DPAC at @OCharging
**Email [email protected] with responses
Picture: A shot from a film by Inclusion London that makes the case for scrapping all social care charging
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