19.05.11 - High Court overturns Birmingham City Council decision to cut disabled peoplesí services

In a landmark case Public Law Solicitors acted for three disabled people in a successful challenge to the decision by Birmingham City Council to cut services to thousands of its most vulnerable citizens. On 19 May 2011 the court delivered a judgment which will have significant implications for budget cuts by many local authorities. As a result of the court ruling the largest local authority in Europe must review its plans to cut its adult social care budget so that only individuals with ‘critical’ needs would receive a service. This would have meant withdrawing Council-funded services from all disabled people assessed as having “substantial” needs, which would include many severely disabled people.

The judge described the move to funding for critical-only policy as “potentially devastating”. He found that, both when setting its budget and changing its eligibility policy, the Council failed to give proper consideration to the impact on disabled people (as required by the law), and failed to undertake adequate consultation on its proposals.  

The issue that the Council needed to address was “whether the impact on the disabled of the move to critical only was so serious that an alternative which was not so draconian should be identified and funded to the extent necessary by savings elsewhere.”  But the Council failed to “ask the right questions” and Councillors were not provided with the right information to be able to answer those questions. In addition, the consultation on the proposals was flawed, because essential information on the proposals was either unclear or only provided at a very late stage.

Karen Ashton, of Public Law Solicitors, solicitor for M, G and H, said:

“In cash-strapped times such as these, the public sector must do more to avoid the consequences of cuts falling on those who are least able to bear them. What this case demonstrates is that this may be not only a moral obligation, but also a legal one. Local Councils (and all other public authorities) must learn this lesson and learn it fast – otherwise there will be many more of these cases coming before the courts. ”