Families take council to court over 'unlawful' funding cuts
Parents of disabled children start legal action against West Berkshire Council
THE families of two severely disabled children are taking legal action against West Berkshire Council over its “unlawful” budget cuts.
Last month, the council voted in favour of slashing its funding for short breaks services for disabled children by £345,000.
It later agreed to use £130,000 of the transitional funding it received from central Government to soften the impact of the cuts. But, in an unprecedented move, the two families have instructed public law expert Irwin Mitchell to take the council to court.
They are doing so on the basis that the funding reduction is in breach of the Breaks For Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011, which is designed to safeguard the needs of carers who would be better able to care for their disabled child more effectively if short breaks were provided.
The families – of a 14-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl from Newbury – say their disabled children will face social isolation as a result of the cuts.
One child who has autism and a rare neurodevelopmental dis-order called William’s Syn-drome, requires round-the-clock care. He cannot wash or dress himself, get food or drink for himself and cannot be left unsupervised.
The teenager’s parents, who have three other children, rely on “life-saving” short breaks services to give them a much-needed break to spend quality time with his siblings and each other.
“These services offer him support that we cannot provide ourselves, because they allow him to socialise with his peers. Without this he’ll be completely socially isolated,” said his mother.
“The council doesn’t understand how its cuts will affect disabled children and their carers and has done little to try to understand.
“Even the consultation documents simply say that the leftover funding will be used to support the services most valued by families.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any analysis of what those are and what that means for those trying to survive without that life-saving support.”
The eight-year-old girl has autism, ADHD, epilepsy and cortical dysplasia, a malformation in the part of the brain responsible for emotional and impulse control.
The child’s mother says that, as a result of her conditions, her daughter is incredibly volatile and can be violent. She requires constant attention by her family and carers.
“These services are what keep the family together,” said the mother.
“Without these same services, the impact on the family would be devastating – particularly for our son. The strain on the whole family will be hard for us to cope with.”
Alice Cullingworth, expert public law lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “We have invited the council to reverse its decision and to think again after having assessed the sufficiency of vital short breaks for families in West Berkshire.
“We have also asked that they consider applying a modest amount from its reserves to prevent cutting short breaks services.
“There is no evidence WBC properly analysed the level of demand for children’s short breaks services or what services will be available to meet this demand with a reduced budget of £190,000 for 2016/17.
“Nor is there proper and lawful consideration as to whether WBC will be providing a sufficient range of day-time care, overnight care, educational or leisure activities, and services to assist carers in the evenings, weekends or school holidays as the law requires.”
A statement from West Berkshire Council read: “We are aware that a judicial review application has been made by Irwin Mitchell. We do not believe it is well founded. We will not be in a position to comment further until the legal proceedings have concluded.”