Two councils in northern England are facing High Court challenges after withdrawing funding for services that provide short breaks for disabled children.
The judicial review proceedings against Lancashire Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council have been launched by four families, two from each authority, who rely on local authority funding to pay for short breaks and respite care.
The cases concern four children with complex disabilities, aged between seven and 11.
Lancashire Council faces claims that its proposal to reduce spending on children and young people services by £11.8m is unlawful. In Blackburn it is claimed the council acted unlawfully and unfairly this month by withdrawing funding for short breaks.
The families say the councils have breached their human rights, the Equalities Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Children Act.
Blackburn with Darwen’s care packages will remain in place for all 21 families affected until the judicial review is complete. This follows a court order secured by solicitors Irwin Mitchell, who are acting for all four families taking legal action.
“These families, along with hundreds of others, rely heavily on this respite care,” said Mathieu Culverhouse, public law solicitor at the firm. “Although it is accepted that councils are required to make significant cost savings, they should not be doing it in a way that ignores the legal rights of some of society’s most vulnerable individuals.
“Ordinarily, councils and other public bodies ensure they have complied with the Disability Discrimination Act by carrying out an equality impact needs assessment (EINA). There was no EINA in [these cases] – in fact, no discernable evidence that the [councils] were aware of their duties under the act.”
Melanie Close, chief executive of the Disability Equality (North West), said: “We understand [Lancashire] needs to save money but these are worrying times for disabled people, parents and carers. Decisions that affect people’s quality of life cannot and should not be taken lightly – that’s why we have legislation to protect disabled children and adults.
“We hope the council will look again at the decisions.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of KIDS, which provided short breaks and respite care to the two Blackburn families, added: “The £800m recently announced by central government to provide short breaks is, we believe, testament to their importance. For such allocated funding not to reach those for whom it is intended as it is filtered down locally is unacceptable.”
The High Court challenges follow a warning from campaign group Every Disabled Child Matters that cuts of up to 15% to services for disabled children could leave councils open to legal challenges over the duty to provide short breaks, which came into force on 1 April.
Councils have until October to show how they are fulfilling the duty. But EDCM uncovered anecdotal evidence that some councils planned to cut funding by up to 15% over the next year, prompting concerns that the new duty, or local need, would not be covered.
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