Court ruling means thousands more disabled people could get access to care
Charities said on Thursday that thousands of disabled people currently denied social care could potentially win access to services following a supreme court ruling.
Charities said the judgment would force councils to be open and transparent about how they reached decisions about funding of individuals who apply for social care support, making it easier for applicants to challenge decisions.
The decision was described as "potentially the biggest community care ruling in 15 years" by solicitors Irwin Mitchell, acting on behalf of four charities involved in the case. The ruling followed a legal challenge to the care package offered by a council to a 26-year-old disabled man, KM. He was born without eyes, has a range of serious mental and physical conditions and needs support with self care and feeding.
KM's lawyers, Scott-Moncrieff and Associates, argued that Cambridgeshire county council's offer of an annual £85,000 care package to KM was irrational and "manifestly insufficient" to meet the man's needs, which an independent social worker had costed at £157,000 a year.
Although the judges unanimously rejected the challenge, saying the council acted rationally in making the offer, Lord Wilson, who delivered the verdict, said councils must make it clearer to service users how a proposed care package would meet their eligible needs.
He said: "What is crucial is that ... the requisite services in the particular case should be costed in a reasonable degree of detail so that a judgement can be made whether the indicative sum is too high, too low or about right."
Simon Foster, head of legal services at Sense, a national charity for deaf-blind people, and one of four disability charities involved in the case, said this obligation of transparency over care funding decisions would make it easier for disabled people to challenge the packages awarded to them.
He said decisions were often unclear and some service users had reported that their local authority would refuse to even assess some applications on the grounds that a care package would be unaffordable. The ruling means councils will be required to carry out the full assessment, even if they later decide they cannot fund the package.
He said: "This is a terribly important ruling. It will make a significant difference to the way people are assessed and the way services are provided."
Foster claimed the supreme court had clarified what he described as a "muddled" House of Lords ruling from 1997 which suggested local authority resources may be taken into account when determining the care needs of individuals.
Council officials played down the judgment's impact, disputing the claim it would lead to thousands more people becoming eligible for care. Sarah Pickup, the president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said there would be no major financial impact on councils as a result of the ruling: "It is not going to open the floodgates."
Irwin Mitchell said the judgment could "potentially see thousands of people get access to social care across the country".
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: "The fact that court recognised the assessment for social care should not be based on a 'computer says so' system is an important step forward.
"This sends a clear message to all local authorities that they have a duty of care to be transparent about how they assess and allocate funds to disabled people whether they live in Liverpool or Luton.
"The case highlights the complexity of the current social care system and the need for the government to stop delaying their reforms and put an end to the care crisis."
• This article was amended on 31 May 2012 to correct a misunderstanding about which law firm acted for the 26-year-old disabled man known as KM. He was represented by Scott-Moncrieff and Associates, not Irwin Mitchell as the article originally said.
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