Four national disability charities have hailed a Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday which states that local authorities must not take their financial situation into account when assessing someone’s support needs.
Sense, the National Austistic Society, RNIB and Guide Dogs had instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to represent them in the case of KM v Cambridgeshire County Council, to clarify the law on whether councils can consider their budgets when establishing the needs of a service user.
The family of KM, a blind, autistic wheelchair user, brought the case because they felt the care package he was offered did not adequately meet his needs.
Although the court ruled against KM, the judgment did nevertheless specify that “resources are not to be taken into account” when a local authority decides on a disabled person’s care needs.
The lawyer that represented the four charities, Yogi Amin, described the judgment as “potentially the biggest community care ruling in 15 years”.
The charities wanted clarification of a previous ruling in 1997 by the House of Lords which suggested that a council’s resources may be taken into account when determining people’s needs. They argued that the law had been misinterpreted and created a postcode lottery for service provision, and that service users should be assessed on what care they need, rather than the local authority’s financial position.
The charities claim that in light of the new judgment, every local authority in England and Wales may have to look again at its assessment procedures.
Amin added: “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.”
The Supreme Court allocated seven judges to the hearing. The importance of the case was not missed by the government - the Secretary of State for Health also intervened.
The ruling also stated that when service users are using direct payments to purchase their support package, it is “crucial” that local authorities provide a reasonable level of detail about the assessment 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, said: "This is an important ruling for all disabled people, including deafblind people, because it provides for open and transparent decision-making when it comes to the care and support people need to live their lives."
Local authorities respond
But the local authority response did not suggest that much would change. Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: "The ruling clarifies existing law but it is not the case that people have been denied an assessment because resources are being taken into account.
"Authorities must always assess needs first and only then take resources into account in agreeing how to meet someone's needs. The judgment reinforces the use of resource allocation systems as a helpful tool in agreeing costed support packages."