Transport to social care services
Local authorities have a duty to provide support for adults assessed as needing transport for social care activities: the mere fact that they are receiving a mobility component of their DLA / PIP (etc.) does not negate this duty.
Local authorities have a duty to assess social care needs and a duty to meet ‘eligible needs’. If a disabled person has been assessed as needing (for example) a day activity provided at a day centre or a need to take part in social/ leisure activities within the community then the council is under a duty to consider transport: how is she / he going to get to the centre / the activity (with their electric wheelchair etc – if needs be)?
This duty does not change because a person is receiving the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or a PIP etc.
The law requires this process for important reasons. A person may, for example, be spending their entire mobility component on the maintenance of their wheelchairs and / or distinct taxi expenses etc. Social security benefits of this kind are not paid to cover local authority responsibilities: the Care Act 2014 creates a distinct regime albeit that it has a charging system that permits account to be taken of certain social security benefits.
Where a need for transport is identified as an eligible need councils are under a duty to ensure it is provided: it is not a discretionary service.
It is unlawful for a councils to have a general policy of not providing transport of this kind – although in individual cases it would be permissible for a council not to consider it an eligible need if it is able to explain in clear and logical / lawful terms why this is so.
Many local authorities have adopted a policy of stating that they do not provide housework services because individuals should pay for this from the care component of their DLA. The local government ombudsman has been alert to this and issued several welcome reports addressing this failing.
Many local authorities are likewise stating that they do not provide help with travel costs because individuals should pay for this from the mobility component of their DLA (or PIP etc). This is equally unlawful – and the fact that the mobility component must be disregarded for the purposes of the Care Act 2014 charging regime makes no difference: there are sound reasons why the mobility component is disregarded for virtually all central government and local government income assessment purposes.
While it is of course true that the mobility component of DLA (or PIP etc) could be used to pay for transport to a day centre it is however a non-sequitur for a council to state ‘it is therefore available to cover the cost of this transport’. On such logic it could be argued that because a person receives basic Income Support it therefore available to cover the cost of that person’s meal at the Savoy.
In 2012 the Department of Health was sufficiently concerned about local authorities adopting policies of this kind that it issued policy guidance to clarify the position. It referred to evidence that ‘some local authorities were taking the mobility component into account when considering what social services to be provide’. The guidance remains directly applicable to equivalent situations that arise under the Care Act 2014. It states that the ‘Department would like to make the position clear’ that:
… local councils have a duty to assess the needs of any person for whom the authority may provide or arrange the provision of community care services and who may be in need of such services. They have a further duty to decide, having regard to the results of the assessment, what, if any, services they should provide to meet the individual’s needs. This duty does not change because a particular individual is receiving the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.
A similar argument (concerning the use of social security benefits) was considered by the ombudsman in a 2017 report. It concerned a reduction to a direct payments support package, not because the person’s needs had changed, but because the local authority considered that some of her eligible needs (relating to the ‘nutrition’ and ‘maintaining a habitable home’ outcomes) should be paid from her Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This was held to be maladministration: there is ‘nothing in the Care Act 2014 or the statutory guidance which allows the Council to require a person to use their benefits this way’. In this respect see also a note in this series concerning cuts to local authority packages generally – to access this click here.