The Supreme Court is to rule on councils’ right to take resources into account in determining the levels of care they will fund for users in a case that could have significant implications for social care funding.
It concerns a severely disabled service user, KM, who was awarded a direct payment worth £85,000 a year by Cambridgeshire Council, despite an independent social worker calculating that it would cost £157,000 to meet his needs and the council agreeing with this practitioner’s assessment of his needs.
KM has learning disabilities, was born with no eyes, has several health conditions and an autistic spectrum condition.
Seven judges will hear an appeal by KM against the decision, brought on the basis that the council did not give adequate reasons for its decision and failed to meet its duty to provide for his care needs. The court will rule on several significant issues around the funding of care:
- How far councils can take their resources into account when they assess someone for social care and provide for their needs.
- Whether resource allocation schemes are a legitimate way of determining funding for individuals.
- The level of explanation councils should provide for the sum awarded through a RAS.
- Whether Cambridgeshire’s decision was irrational on the grounds that the amount awarded was “manifestly insufficient” to meet KM’s needs.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has intervened in the case because of its wider significance. “The issues raised are fundamental to the way councils decide who is eligible for care and support and that is why the secretary of state has intervened,” said a Department of Health spokesperson.
Four charities – Sense, the National Autistic Society (NAS), the Royal National Institute for Blind People and Guide Dogs for the Blind – have also intervened in the case in a bid to overturn the current position which allows councils to take resources into account.
“This is potentially the biggest community care case for 15 years,” said Alex Rook of law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the four charities.
NAS chief executive Mark Lever raised concerns about the use of resource allocation systems.
“We think local authorities must be transparent about how they allocate funding to disabled individuals,” he said. “Without transparency there is a real danger that the reasoning behind a monetary award will be based on a “computer says so” system rather than a fair assessment of an individual’s needs.”
The case will be heard today and tomorrow, though a ruling may not be made for several months. The council has declined to comment until judgement is made.
Legal position on care funding
The legal position on care funding and assessment is summarised in the latest edition of Community Care and the Law, a text book published by the Legal Action Group written by solicitor Luke Clements and former Age Concern England policy adviser Pauline Thompson. It said that local authorities are “entitled to take their available resources into account, when framing their general eligibility criteria”, subject to four constraints:-
- That services are only withdrawn from individuals following a full reassessment of need when eligibility criteria are tightened.
- That councils have a duty to meet any needs they deem to be eligible.
- Resources cannot be the sole criterion in setting eligibility criteria.
- There should be no violation of the Human Rights Act 1998.
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