Rebecca Halliday was entitled to higher-rate disability living allowance (DLA) to cover a sign-language interpreter who would help her lead a normal social life, five law lords said yesterday in a key ruling against the Department of Social Security which opens the way for a better deal for deaf, blind and other severely disabled people.
The test-case decision in favour of the 22-year-old could be of crucial importance to thousands of disabled people after the judges backed their right to have social lives and rejected the DSS's argument that social activities were "non-essential" so did not qualify for the non means-tested benefit under the relevant rules.
Lord Slynn said that a severely disabled person "is not to be confined to doing only the things which totally deaf [or blind] people can do and provided with only such attention as keeps him alive in such a community". What was important was whether the attention was "reasonably required" to enable a person so far as possible to live a normal life.
Ms Halliday, who works at a school near her home in Newark, Nottinghamshire, will now receive the pounds 33.10 a week higher rate DLA for care during the day, instead of the lower rate of pounds 13.15. She said: "I am delighted. Now I can move forward and plan for the future."
David Thomas, legal officer for the Child Poverty Action Group, which backed the case, said: "This is a great victory. It opens the way for severely disabled people to have their real needs for a normal life considered."
Tim Sargeant, a spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, said: "It's all very well saying deaf people can talk to each other but they want to have full social lives and meet people outside the deaf community."
Laura Jacobs, manager of the RNIB's benefits rights team, said the ruling could make "all the difference" to the lives of visually impaired people because the social and leisure needs of claimants would be taken into account in benefit decisions rather than just absolute necessities.
The DSS had argued that totally blind or deaf people should never be entitled to DLA (or in the case of claimants over 65, attendance allowance), because no amount of help would enable them to see or hear. But the philosophy of government policy and the recent Disability Discrimination Act, which is reflected in yesterday's ruling, is that disabled people should be helped to live as full lives as possible.
The DSS faces a substantial potential increase in benefit pay-outs after the Halliday ruling but emerged the victor in a parallel test appeal against a refusal of attendance allowance. The judges ruled "reluctantly" that the need for an incontinent arthritic to pay for someone to take away laundry did not call for frequent attention in connection with "bodily functions" as required by the law. Despite losing the appeal, however, the claimant, 71-year-old Gladys Cockburn, now receives the higher rate of pounds 33.10 because her general condition has deteriorated.