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My legal challenge to the cuts in Hertfordshire

Location: UK » East of England » SG
My legal challenge to the cuts in Hertfordshire

This is the detailed application I have lodged with the High Court requesting a full Judicial Review of Hertfordshire County Council’s changes to policy on charging for care together with cuts in services and the slashing of funding to the very third party organisations who are expected to pick up the slack as from April Fools Day 2011 when the cuts start to bite.

Case Lodged 28th February 2011 at the Royal Courts of Justice

Detailed Statement of Grounds

Hertfordshire County Council have clearly failed to meet their duties under Section 49(a) of the Disability Discrimination Act as amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 commonly known as the “Disability Equality Duty” (DED) which will form part of the “General Duty” under the provisions of the Equalities Act 2010 which comes into force in April 2011.

The consultation on proposals to change the Council’s Non-residential Services charging policy, carried out between August and October of 2010, failed to meet the standards required under the DED and the provisions of the Department of Health Guidance for Councils with Social Services Responsibilities issued in 2003.

The Council have failed to have due regard of the government’s announcements regarding additional funds which are being set aside precisely to offset the disadvantage disabled people and their carers face due to the austerity measures.

The planned reductions in funding to organisations such as Hertfordshire Action on Disability and the Supporting People Service and proposed restructuring of The Money Advice unit have/or are being put through without any consultation with those directly affected and in direct contradiction of the stated rationale for changes to Non-residential Services policy.

The changes in Non-residential charging policy are due to be implemented from 1st April 2011 it is therefore imperative that the issues raised in this application be resolved prior to that date given the chaos, uncertainty and distress to service users that will ensue if the changes are implemented and then have to be reversed at a later date. This is particularly true for the two grant funded bodies who are currently having to consider staff reductions and redundancies based on the reductions in their funding recently announced by Hertfordshire County Council.

It is also in Hertfordshire County Council’s best interests that this matter be resolved as a matter of urgency in order that suitable provision can be made for funding any shortfall in revenue and/or the need to provide additional grant aid over and above that now proposed to Hertfordshire Action on Disability and Community Support Services throughout the county as a result of any lawful consultation and reconsideration of the policies in question under this application for judicial review.

As with the recent judicial review of the decision by the Leaders’ Committee of London Councils to cut £10m from their £26.4m Grants Scheme, where it was held that decisions taken were unlawful because of failure to meet Public Sector Equality Duties, the result of this judicial review may well have far reaching implication for other local authorities and the bodies which they fund to provide services to disabled people.

An urgent clarification of the law in regard to what constitutes a “lawful” consultation in relation to changes in policy relating to disabled people and or the subsequent consideration of that policy will, therefore, be of benefit to all the service users of other local authorities in England, many of whom are currently in the process of imposing similar increases to charges at the same time as reducing services to these disabled people and at the same time also reducing the level of funding provided to the third sector organisations expected to pick up the slack following those cuts.

The interim order I am seeking is as follows:

“It be ordered that changes to the Hertfordshire County Council’s Non-residential care charging policy and reductions in funding to relevant grant aided providers of services to disabled people in Hertfordshire, such as Hertfordshire Action on Disability and Community Support Services, be put on hold pending the result of the judicial review and thereafter be subject to any further directions or orders made by the court in respect of the judicial review in question.”

Main Facts Relied on are as follows:

1. The original “Consultation” Document sent out via letter on the 21st July 2010 (pg 54 - 56) stresses throughout that the main rationale for the changes is to avoid making cuts in front line services. However, later decisions by HCC will clearly impact on front line services due to cuts in funding of organisations that provide services to disabled people and most notably with the 50% cut in the budget for the Community Support Service.

2. No mention is made at all about the inclusion of services provided by the Community Support Service to those in sheltered accommodation including those with extra care arrangements and/or those living in the community who none-the-less need to make use of their services from time to time like myself. In fact it was only the fact that I was considering moving into such sheltered housing myself whilst the consultation was underway that a member of staff “warned” me not to follow that option as they were aware of the implications for my net income if I was relying on the existing arrangements for Community Support.

3. In fact HCC went even further and actually forbade front line workers discussing the changes to charging with this particular group with the only direct information about the impending changes being that contained in the letter from Community Support Services to clients dated 4th February despite the fact many in this group will be hardest hit by the changes as currently those on housing benefit are entitled to free support but will be subject to the full impact of the changes to the tune of approximately £55.00 per week in many cases (pg 91)

4. Again no mention is made about the increase in charges for Meals on Wheels but this is included in the final report as though it had been part of the main consultation.

5. Despite it being obvious that the main group affected by the changes will be exactly the same group as were hit by the original change to “fairer” charging i.e. single adults in receipt of the severe disability premium of Income support or the equivalent for those on pension credit as they will now be extremely likely to lose the entire amount of the premium in charges but the “worked examples” used during the consultation (and indeed also the current charging for care leaflets provided by county to potential service users) fail to clarify this.

6. In effect HCC will now be taking the equivalent of the Carers allowance from disabled people even where they are only providing a few hours of care per week whereas those in receipt of Carers allowance have by definition to be providing a minimum of 35 hours of care per week to qualify.

7. It is impossible to read the original consultation documents without being given the impression that those who will be being expected to pay more would be the people with the means to pay because they were relatively affluent when the reality is that it is those on Income support levels of income who will effectively have 100% of their “disposable” income taken from them.

8. Whilst an albeit flawed consultation was carried out for some of the changes to the so called “Fairer” charging policy no such consultation has taken place with regard to the reductions if funding to key providers of support to disabled people which as recent case law has established is of itself a direct breach of the Disability and other Equality Duties the local authority has.

9. Perhaps the most stark evidence that this consultation and the Equalities Impact assessment were little more than a tick box exercises is that simple fact that the original proposals as included in the consultation have passed into policy with only minor changes to the day to day running of the scheme with regard to appeals but which still do not provide a truly “independent” review other than via a complaint to the Ombudsman.

10. Above all what is evidenced by all the documentation I have provided is that HCC have asked only “Can we do this?” and not asked the question “should we do this?” which should be the paramount concern of local authorities who are charged with helping to redress the disadvantage disabled people face rather than actually make matters worse for them.

N.B. The change in the policy will increase charges for care dramatically, especially for those on benefits, with people like myself seeing an increase in costs from about £35 per week to £55 as from April Fools Day.

Even worse for those current under the supported People Services in sheltered housing or extra care sheltered housing will see an increase from zero now (if they are in receipt of housing benefit) to the full charge of about £50 to £55 per week in one giant leap.

As I said in my “Everest” thread over on Ouch this is a battle I have to fight, even if I lose, because at least then the local authority will know that their actions are being challenged and not simply hidden in this years budget as “efficiency savings” with no mention at all that services are being cut or that disabled people are facing dramatically increased charges and that third party organisations expected to pick up the slack have all had their funding slashed.

For those wishing to follow the progress of the case the case number issued by the Administrative Court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London is CO/1873/2011

http://www.thecomet.net/news/letchworth_man_s_bid_to_take_council_to_the_high_court_over_disabled_service_cuts_1_825583

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