Birmingham legal victory ‘could open door for other social care cuts cases’

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Birmingham legal victory ‘could open door for other social care cuts cases’

A landmark legal ruling paves the way for local authorities to be challenged if they attempt to cut care services.

23/05/2011

A court case was brought by the families of four disabled people who had been told by Birmingham City Council in April that any of their care needs that were not ‘critical’ would no longer be funded.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Walker said that the council had acted unlawfully in setting its budget and deciding to tighten of its eligibility policy from ‘substantial’ to ‘critical’ because due regard had not been given to promoting equality under the Disability Discrimination Act. He said: ‘It is difficult to see how, …… ‘due regard’ could be paid to the matters identified in s. 49A without some attempt at assessment of the practical impact on those whose needs in…. fell into the ‘substantial’ band but not into the ‘critical’ band.” (S.49A refers to the disability equality duty in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995).

He also found that the consultation had been inadequate as it ‘had not involved any attempt to look at the practical detail of what the move to ‘critical only’ would entail’. He said that the council had failed to consider what other ‘alternative resources in the community would be available for those with substantial needs’ or identify any other steps to ‘mitigate the impact on disabled people’.

Polly Sweeney, a solicitor with the firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented one of the four claimants, said it was a ‘hugely important victory. ‘Birmingham City Council is the UK’s largest local authority and it’s very likely that this outcome will set a precedent for other cases in other parts of the UK where councils may be targeting vulnerable groups through cost-cutting drives.’

The strategic director of adults and communities at Birmingham City Council accepted that ‘we will now need to re-run the consultation and make decisions about adult social care consistent with the need to analyse the potential impact on disabled people and our compliance with the equality principles set out in law’.

Inclusion London believes that local authorities in London should take note of Justice Walkers ruling and ensure that their service provision is compliant with legal obligations as well as with the needs of service users. Attempts to unreasonably restrict the eligibility criteria may, on the basis of this precedent, find London local authorities facing similar costly and time consuming legal action as service users and DDPOs defend rights to essential services.

You can download a copy of the full judgement from the column on the right.

Information from sources including www.disabilitynewsservice.com