Councils that have service users placed in their areas by other authorities could face higher bills after a High Court judgement.
The decision means authorities could find themselves responsible for people placed in care homes in their area by other councils if these people are subsequently sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
It comes after Sutton Council, south London, lost a case last week against Hammersmith and Fulham Council. It involved a man from the west London borough who developed mental health problems after being placed in a private care home in Sutton. At the time, Hammersmith and Fulham was responsible for his care under the National Assistance Act 1948 rules of ordinary residence.
However, after he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Sutton and sectioned, Hammersmith and Fulham refused to continue paying for his care because it argued the man’s personal situation had changed and that the individual had become Sutton’s responsibility under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Sutton argued that this did not serve the rights of the person involved, had significant cost implications and was inequitable to the individual concerned as well as to Sutton taxpayers.
Ed Mitchell, editor of Social Care Law Today and Community Care‘s legal columnist, said he believed the judgement would have “significant implications” as other authorities would “find themselves all of a sudden being responsible for expensive service users” placed by “inner city councils”.
Colin Stears, Sutton’s executive member for adult services and housing, said it would be difficult to appeal but the council’s legal team was still digesting the full judgement. He added that it was too soon to determine whether the ruling could affect other authorities in the future.
He said Sutton would now try to find out how many other people in similar circumstances had been placed within the authority’s area.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has published updated guidance on ordinary residence, the first since 1993, which covers the handling of disputes between councils over responsibility for service users.