A disabled teenager has been given the go-ahead to challenge a cost-cutting local authority that is set to force more disabled people into residential care, rather than paying for them to receive support in their own homes.
Disabled campaigners reacted furiously to the proposals by Worcestershire County Council when they were announced last year.
But now the teenager, known as D, who is being supported by his mother, has been given permission to take the policy to a full judicial review.
His lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, have already challenged council cuts to services for disabled people in other parts of the country.
They say the council failed to pay due regard to its duties under the Equality Act when deciding on its “maximum expenditure policy”. They also claim the council has failed to undertake a lawful consultation.
The council’s cabinet approved the policy last November after a period of consultation which Irwin Mitchell said was “widely criticised for being unclear and not providing sufficient information about the proposals”.
The council has refused to review its decision and re-consult.
Under the council’s plans, new service-users – or existing service-users whose needs change – who have a support package where the costs exceed a certain limit will be told to either meet the shortfall themselves, find a cheaper means of support – perhaps by using direct payments – or “receive their care in a residential or nursing home”.
Dr Sarah Campbell, co-author last year of a report for the We Are Spartacus campaign on the council’s proposals, said: “Social care is a fundamental necessity for disabled people’s independence and inclusion in society.
“Worcestershire’s ‘maximum expenditure policy’ puts this at risk, significantly reducing the quality and level of care for some, while requiring others to go into residential homes.”
She added: “We were very disappointed to see the council proceed with their plans after an extremely poorly-conducted consultation and despite fierce opposition due to the hugely detrimental effect it would have on their disabled constituents.
“Although we regret that such a course of action is necessary, we fully support this court case and hope that ultimately a better solution can be found.”
Polly Sweeney, a public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, who is representing D, said: “We have real concerns that the process by which the council took this decision is seriously flawed and as a result, the needs of disabled people have not been properly considered.”
D’s mother, said: “Restricting the funding available to meet D’s care needs like this may leave him with no choice but to be forced into residential care.
“I’m worried for what will happen to him in a few years as we would not be able to afford to support a suitable care package if the council imposes their cap.
“I am getting older and have my own health difficulties and I need to ensure that D is properly set up on his own in the community so that I know if he is properly cared for should something happen to me.”
It is believed to be the first time such a policy has been used by a council in England and Wales to cut social care budgets.
Simon Mallinson, the council’s head of legal and democratic services, said: “The high court has only given permission for the legal challenge to be heard, and has made no decision that the policy is unlawful.
“The council is committed to ensuring all eligible needs are met, and believes the policy would make the most efficient use of the funding available, allowing it to go where it is most needed.
“We do not accept that it is unlawful to make best use of council tax-payers’ money, but pending the outcome of this challenge, we have chosen not to implement the policy in the meantime to avoid potential disruption.”
23 May 2013