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Disabled man loses appeal over care costs

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal from a disabled man over the care package provided to him by Cambridgeshire County Council.

1 June 2012

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KM, who is 26 years old and has a range of serious physical and mental problems, was offered £85,000 a year by the council to fund his care needs. However, his lawyers argued that this was “manifestly insufficient” and said that the June 2010 decision was unlawful because it was irrational, using as evidence for their claim an independent social worker who estimated the cost of an annual support package at £157,000.

But judges at the UK’s highest court yesterday (31 May 2012) rejected the case.

Giving the judgment, Lord Wilson said that KM’s lawyers had failed to prove that “the offer did not reflect a rational computation of the cost of meeting the appellant’s eligible needs”.

However, he said councils must make it clearer to service users how a proposed care package would meet their eligible needs. “What is crucial is that… the requisite services in the particular case should be costed in a reasonable degree of detail so that a judgment can be made whether the indicative sum is too high, too low or about right,” said Justice Wilson.

Charities welcomed the ruling, saying the judgment would force councils to be open and transparent about how they reached decisions over funding of individuals who apply for social care support.

Simon Foster, head of legal services at Sense, one of the 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. “This is a terribly important ruling. It will make a significant difference to the way people are assessed and the way services are provided,” said Foster.

Solicitors Irwin Mitchell, who represented the four charities (Sense, National Autistic Society, RNIB and Guide Dogs), hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as “potentially the biggest community care ruling in 15 years”.

“Although KM’s appeal has not been successful, we are pleased that the Supreme Court has now clarified the law with regard to local authorities taking their resources into account when assessing a disabled person’s needs,” said Yogi Amin, partner in the firm’s public law team.

Amin believes that the judgment has made it clear that “resources are not to be taken into account” when establishing the needs of disabled people. Previously, some councils have restricted assessments on the grounds of costs and some have not, which has resulted in a postcode lottery for social care.

“Each of the national charities who intervened in this case firmly believes that a person’s individual needs are the same regardless of where they live and have campaigned tirelessly to ensure there is complete transparency in terms of what an individual’s care needs are. They also argued for clarity over what is delivered in a care package – that also was an issue the Law Lords clarified and supported,” said Amin.

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