High Court Social Care Charging judgment
Proceedings taken on behalf of a 24 year old disabled person with Down Syndrome, challenging the way the council calculated the charges she had to pay for her social care and support have succeeded. The council’s new charging policy had significantly reduced the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG – the minimum income a disabled person should be left with after the charge has been levied) that adults were could receive before being charged for care.
The court held that the policy was unfair, perverse and discriminatory. The policy had a disparate impact on people who had more severe impairments (who had high care needs and significant barriers to paid work) compared to people with less severe impairments who were able to supplement their income with earnings from employment or self-employment (which is ignored for charging purposes). The policy was manifestly without reasonable foundation and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights Article 14 (discrimination) and Article 1 of the first Protocol (enjoyment of possessions – ie income).
Norfolk County Council is not unique in having severely ramped up its adult social care charges – and not therefore the only council that will have to make significant changes to its policies.
The buck should of course stop with the Government and the Department of Health and Social Care. Charging people who live on the breadline for the social care support they need should be considered as morally repugnant as charging for their health care needs. The impact of income related charges is all too often overlooked in the debate about the reform of social care funding. Charges cause many disabled people to refuse much needed support and exacerbate poverty. In 2018, for example it appears that more than 160,000 people had consequential social care debts and 78,000 were under debt management by their council.
Hopefully this judgment will also galvanise the ombudsman to critically analyse the reasonableness of an eventual charge (ie whether it is ‘reasonably practicable’ for the individual to pay) – rather than (as currently) simply checking that the correct process has been followed (ie that a local authority has followed its own policy). The High Court in this judgment has given a strong signal that the level of charges and their impact on individuals is itself a matter of fundamental human rights – ie a matter of substance rather than process.
To access the judgment R (SH) v Norfolk County Council and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care  EWHC 3436 (Admin) click here.