More councils face legal challenges over care cuts, warns Birmingham

Local authorities planning changes to social care services will find it difficult to prove the impact on disabled people, which will leave them open to legal challenge, Public Finance has been told.

Last week, Birmingham City Council’s proposal to cut its care funding from some disabled adults was ruled unlawful in the High Court.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Walker said that the council had breached its duty to give proper consideration to the impact on disabled people, as required by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The council’s strategic director of adults and communities, Peter Hay, who is also president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said the council had had to make quick decisions following its financial settlement with government.

‘I couldn’t have told you what the impact was in March. How in a fast moving financial situation could you possible hope to display impact? I couldn’t have done it,’ he told PF. He added that he was aware of other councils that are also likely to face a judicial review.

The judge’s ruling, published on May 19, said that the council needed to address whether the impact of removing care for people deemed to have ‘substantial’ care needs was ‘so serious that an alternative which was not so draconian should be identified and funded to the extent necessary by savings elsewhere’.

Hay said that he would feel ‘much more confident’ of providing an impact assessment once the changes had been in place for a year.

He said: ‘To meet the standard of showing impact [outlined in the ruling], I’m not sure how you can do that.’ He added: ‘You’re not allowed to say you don’t know.’

Stating that he wanted ‘to do right by disabled people’, Hay said that Birmingham would now re-examine its plans, which would have funded only individuals assessed as having ‘critical’ needs. This was part of a move towards preventative care, and providing greater advice to people who spend their own money on care.

The changes proposed by Birmingham reflected national issues, Hay added. He pointed out that up to 2009/10 the number of people receiving care from local authorities fell, suggesting ‘that older people are not being well served’ by the current system.

Hay told PF that the judgment also raised a longer-term issue for councils, which is that they still have a duty to provide care despite cuts in budgets.

‘We are going to have to look at this ruling and consider the impact of that. These are tough questions, and decisions to follow, as there’s no extra money.’

A government review into the future of adult social care funding, headed by Andrew Dilnot, a former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is set to report in July.