Legal action threatened over disability cuts

Campaigners for disabled people are considering legal action against the Government over proposed cuts to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), they said today.

Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance, said that the Government may be in breach of both domestic and European legislation if it fails to consider the impact on disabled people of plans to cut DLA expenditure by more than £2 billion.

The organisation has issued a 'letter of claim' to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the issue.

It said in a statement: "The letter is focused on whether the Department can demonstrate that the impact of proposals has been properly analysed by DWP and begins a formal process which may see DWP face full legal proceedings."

Mr Coyle told BBC News today: "We are giving formal notice that unless the concerns that disabled people have legitimately raised are addressed in the context of the Welfare Reform Bill, there is a strong legal case.

"Our legal advice ... is that the Government may be in breach of both domestic and European legislation if it fails to consider the impact on disabled people of the plans to cut £2.17 billion from DLA expenditure."

The Alliance said it was concerned that current plans would disproportionately disadvantage disabled people and their families, including proposals to abolish low rate care DLA support which is received by 652,000 people who have provided evidence of impairments or health conditions and are acknowledged as 'disabled' by DWP, and to end DLA mobility support for disabled care home residents, without clarity on how potential losses in support for the 78,000 people directly affected (and their families) would be mitigated.

Mr Coyle told the BBC: "We have spent the best part of the last year working with Government trying to ensure DWP in particular was aware of the concerns of disabled people.

"All of that year's worth of work and the formal consultation that the Government opened in December and closed in February has led to no change in the plans, and no real address to the issues that we have put forward, and the potential impact on thousands of disabled people and their families."

Asked if they were "jumping the gun", as the consultation process was going on, he said: "I think it's really important to clarify that the Government's consultation on DLA closed in February, so five and a half thousand disabled organisations and disabled people responded and it didn't change Government policy, in fact the Government already put legislation in Parliament that would do exactly what it wanted."

Mr Coyle said that for more than half of the disabled people who use DLA to support them in work, they say they would have to give up work if they lose their DLA.

"For many disabled people, it helps to pay for an adapted vehicle, so if you can't afford to run a vehicle, and that's what you're using DLA for, there's a strong chance you won't be able to continue in work.

"One in seven disabled people have been telling us that without DLA they won't be able to manage their health condition or impairment, and they're more likely to have hospitalised periods, which cost far more to the taxpayer than paying, for example, £19.55 a week, which is the bit of the DLA expenditure the Government is targeting for ending."

The Alliance believes that DWP may have failed to pay due regard to the disability equality duty which follows the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, or responsibilities arising under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We are following the usual processes and are working with disability organisations on DLA reforms, including with the design of the assessment.

"It is premature to talk about a judicial review as the regulations do not go through until 2012."