Many councils could have their adult care budgets ruled illegal on the back of a High Court judgement yesterday, the president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has warned.
Peter Hay said the ruling that concluded that his council – Birmingham – had acted unlawfully through its decision to raise eligibility thresholds from substantial to critical had “set a very high standard” for local authority budget setting.
The judge, Mr Justice Walker, ruled that Birmingham had not complied with its disability equality duty, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, because its decision did not pay due regard to the effects of raised thresholds on disabled people, on whom it would have an adverse impact. He said the council’s consultation had “not involved any attempt to look at the practical detail of what the move to ‘critical only’ would entail”.
However, Hay said: “There are a lot of councils under similar challenges and this does set a very high standard.” Hay was sceptical that many council budgets would have met the six criteria laid down by disability equality duty, in the way the judge required.
Under the duty, councils must give due regard to eliminating discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity, eliminating harassment, treating disabled people more favorably if necessary, promoting positive attitudes on disability and encouraging participation of disabled people.
Hay said Birmingham, like other councils, had been working within very tight timescales in setting its 2011-12 budget by March of this year, due to the fact that central government only announced the local government funding settlement in late November.
“That made it incredibly difficult to show the impact [on disabled people] in situations of the kind we were facing, when everything was evolving all around you,” he said.
While he said he supported the disability equality duty, the ruling raised the question of whether it was better to have a simple legal framework or one with multiple tests to ensure disabled people were considered.
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