Disabled win right to have services restored

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

The Government may have to legislate to allow councils to match services for the disabled to the money available after a Court of Appeal ruling yesterday which could cost social services departments hundreds of millions of pounds.

The alternatives would be much higher government spending or a relaxation in capping rules to allow local authorities to raise the council tax.

The ruling was hailed as a "wonderful victory" by disability groups and the Public Law Project which helped an 80-year-old Gloucestershire heart attack victim and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (Radar) to bring the landmark test case.

It means that many thousands of disabled people - more than a million, according to Radar - who have had their services cut in recent years have the right to have them restored, Stephen Cragg, the Public Law Project's solicitor, said.

But lawyers, social services directors and Radar believe it also implies that local authorities are no longer allowed to take the cash they have available into account when setting the criteria which decide who gets the service. If that is the case, Tad Kubisa, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said: "It opens the floodgates. We will be looking at huge sums of money - hundreds of millions, possibly billions of pounds."

Gloucestershire, which lost the test case, is to appeal to the House of Lords. But if the ruling is upheld, then central government will have to find the cash, or capping will have to go to allow local authorities to raise it from the council tax, or the Government will have to legislate, Mr Kubisa said.

Stephen Thorpe, acting director of social services for Gloucestershire, said the ruling "in effect means that we will have to provide services even if we do not have the money to do so. This cannot be right".