A local authority is facing legal action after a “deeply concerning” decision to slash a disabled woman’s care package before it had completed an assessment of her care needs.
Hounslow council appears to have ignored its obligations under the Care Act by removing more than half of her support without even telling her what it had done.
Jane* is a former recipient of support from the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which closed in June 2015. ILF had been helping Jane and nearly 17,000 other disabled people with high support needs to live independently at the time it closed.
Local authorities in England have been receiving funding from central government to cover the support previously provided under ILF, but that money is not ring-fenced and so councils have no obligation to spend it on former ILF-recipients, or even on adult social care.
Jane only found out that her support had been cut last month when her bank told her that the money Hounslow council had been paying her every month to match the support she previously received from ILF had not been paid in for the last two months.
The council’s decision meant her support package had effectively been cut from 12 hours a day to just five, despite – she says – the council recognising that she needs and has 24-hour support and has needed this for years.
The 84 hours of paid care she previously received – which has been topped up with unpaid care provided mainly by her personal assistants (PAs), which mean she is supported almost 24 hours a day – has enabled her to participate in her local community, chair three disability organisations, and even attend Glastonbury Festival to deliver a talk about disability rights.
Jane said: “It is just a complete nightmare. The way they have treated me is inhumane, disrespectful and unlawful and it has exacerbated my depression and anxiety enormously.
“It has left me feeling even more desperate, worthless, hopeless and suicidal and I keep getting panic attacks and feeling nauseous and struggling to breathe.
“I am and feel responsible to my PAs as their employer. No-one should have to work not knowing if their employer will be able to pay them at the end of the month.
“If I cannot afford to pay them they will need to find alternative employment, leaving me with even less care, as they currently do many extra unpaid hours for me, over and above their paid hours, as I need someone with me 24 hours a day, but I am only funded for 12 hours a day.
“With the council stopping the ILF element of my care, that’s effectively cutting my care support to just five hours a day.
“I was virtually housebound before I received ILF funding for the additional care I needed, and I cannot bear the thought of losing my independence and the choice and control over my day-to-day life that my carers support me to have.
“Cutting my care will leave me housebound once again, unable to contribute to or to be a part of the world around me.”
Hounslow council told Jane that it believed it no longer needed to fund any of the hours previously funded by ILF because of a court of appeal decision in the case of another former ILF-user, Luke Davey, from Oxfordshire.
The court of appeal ruled in September that Oxfordshire County Council had been legally entitled to cut Davey’s support package from £1,651 a week to just £950, following the ILF closure.
Davey’s lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that the council had breached its duty under the Care Act 2014 to meet his assessed needs, and would breach its duty to ensure his “wellbeing”.
But in Jane’s case, Hounslow council had not even completed a proper assessment of her needs, and appears to have simply decided that – because of the Davey ruling – it no longer needed to fund support previously provided by ILF.
It previously assessed her needs in October 2015, but her lawyer says the assessment was fundamentally flawed and after he threatened the council with a judicial review, it agreed to reassess her. That reassessment has still not been completed.
Jane’s solicitor, Mitchell Woolf, from lawyers Scott-Moncrieff, said he believed the council’s actions were a clear breach of the Care Act.
He said: “What they have done is to stop the ILF element of her care package without any notice.
“They have cut her care package without having completed a lawful assessment since ILF closed and the Care Act came into force in 2015. I think this is deeply concerning.”
He is also concerned that, using the Davey case as its justification, the council may have taken a similar step with other former ILF-users in the borough*.
This week, following the warning from Scott-Moncrieff, the council appears to have backed down – at least temporarily – and has reinstated the 84 hours per week funding, pending the completion of Jane’s assessment.
Cllr Kamaljit Kaur, Hounslow council’s cabinet member for adult social care, said: “Hounslow council carried out two legal assessments of resident [Jane] in June 2015 and November 2015.
“[She] was assessed as not requiring the additional [ILF] payments… in order to meet her care needs.
“The council is carrying out a third assessment and has agreed to re-instate [Jane’s] payments for September and October 2017 while this current assessment is carried out and until this is completed.
“[Jane] was informed of the situation by the council’s legal team in a letter, which was sent to her lawyers.
“The council is not aware of any other residents in the same or a similar situation.
“The health and wellbeing of all our residents in the borough is our priority.
“Despite difficult challenges that we continue to face because of severe cuts to the social care budget, we aim to ensure that our services meet the needs of those who need it most.”
*Any former ILF-user in Hounslow who has been treated in a similar way to Jane can contact Svetlana Kotova at Inclusion London by emailing: [email protected]
Pictured: Disabled activist Paula Peters protesting against the decision to close the Independent Living Fund