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Supreme court set to clarify social care law

A landmark community care case is set to be heard in the Supreme Court in which KM, a severely disabled person, and four national charities will seek to clarify whether a council can take its finances into account when assessing people for social care. The aim is to ensure people with disabilities receive a proper assessment of their needs.

7 February 2012

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Representatives from Sense, the National Autistic Society (NAS), the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Guide Dogs say the legal challenge could have far-reaching implications for disabled people across the country.

All four organisations are united in their bid to overturn a previous ruling in 1997 by the House of Lords which concluded that the resources of a local authority may be taken into account when determining the care needs of individuals. As a result local authorities currently assess and meet an individual’s needs taking into account the resources they have available – rather than first establishing the person’s full individual needs.  This leads to a situation whereby a persons needs could be different depending upon where in the country they live.

But the charities have been given permission to proceed with a legal intervention in an ongoing case brought by KM against the lawfulness of the adult social care policy of Cambridgeshire County Council. If the appeal is successful, it will mean that every local authority in England and Wales will have to reconsider how it assesses the needs of disabled people. 

Cambridgeshire County Council awarded KM about £85,000 a year, for care that a social worker estimated at £157,000.

The charities will argue that the law has been misinterpreted and that each individual should be assessed in the first instance in terms of what care they need, rather than the local authority’s financial position.

Alex Rook, an associate in the public law team at Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the charities, said: “This is potentially the biggest community care case for 15 years. The court will hear submissions on behalf of the national charities that they seek to end the inequity of the current situation and determine once and for all that care needs are care needs regardless of the local authority in question.  Each of the charities firmly believe that a person’s individual needs are the same regardless of whether they live in Hackney or Harrogate.

“Our clients have long campaigned to ensure there is complete transparency in terms of what an individual’s care needs are. Despite the difficult current economic climate, this should not mean that people miss out on the crucial social care they need.”

KM is aged 26 and has a range of serious physical and mental disabilities. He was born with no eyes or optic nerves, has learning difficulties and an autistic spectrum disorder. He has other medical problems including a growth hormone deficiency, spinal disease, issues with his lungs and hearing problems.

The case will be heard in the Supreme Court on 7 and 8 February.

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