Three disabled people who use the Independent Living Fund (ILF) have launched a fresh legal bid to halt its “unlawful” closure.
Lawyers for the trio have told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they are seeking a judicial review of its decision to close the fund, a government-resourced trust which helps about 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
Many campaigners believed the battle had been won when five ILF-users secured victory in the court of appeal last November.
The court ruled in November that the closure decision had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, because disabled people’s minister Esther McVey had not been given adequate information to assess the effect on ILF-users and their ability to live independently.
But the judgment meant only that the government had to reconsider its closure decision, this time paying “proper attention” to its legal obligations.
Mike Penning, the new minister, told MPs in March that he had completed that duty and had decided to go ahead with the original decision to close ILF and transfer non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities, although he delayed the closure date by three months until 30 June 2015.
But DWP admitted that in reconsidering the closure decision it had failed to consult any individuals or organisations outside government.
It also failed to gather any additional information from local authorities or other sources about what level or type of support former ILF-users would receive from social services once ILF was removed, or how many people would be likely to have to go into residential care or lose their ability to work or study.
Now three of the disabled campaigners who took the original court action – Stuart Bracking, Gabriel Pepper and John Aspinall – are renewing the legal fight to save ILF from closure.
Bracking told Disability News Service: “Gabriel, John and I are starting another legal challenge because it is vital we do everything legally we can to stop the closure of the fund, and reverse the flawed decision made by the new minister for disabled people in March.
“When Mike Penning decided the fund should now close in June 2015, he still did not adequately address the personal consequences for many severely disabled people if their lives are restricted by limited support in the community or the appalling prospects that await those with ’round-the-clock’ needs who will be institutionalised.
“It is clear from more and more stories from different parts of England that Independent Living Fund-users are already facing deep cuts to their care packages or are being given warnings by social workers what to expect when the Care Act is fully implemented from April 2015.”
Bracking and Pepper are represented by Louise Whitfield, of solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, while Kate Whittaker, of Scott-Moncrieff, is representing Aspinall.
Whitfield and Whittaker say that Penning has breached the public sector equality duty in a similar way to McVey, because he “did not have adequate information to be able to properly understand what the impact of closure would be” on ILF-users.
They say this made it impossible to “properly weigh up the pros and cons of the proposal with the necessary focus on removing disadvantages for disabled people, meeting their needs, increasing participation in public life and advancing equality that the law requires in all decisions by government”.
They believe that DWP’s latest equality analysis failed to reflect what the court of appeal described as “the inevitable and considerable adverse impact which the closure of the fund will have”.
They are calling on DWP to withdraw its closure decision, which they say is unlawful.
6 June 2014