Regulatory policy

Council urgently reviews direct payment cuts after challenging ‘illegal’ policy

Photo: Sophon_Nawitt/Adobe Stock

A council has launched an urgent review of cuts it made to people’s direct payments after a legal challenge forced a ‘full spin’ in a woman’s case.

Stockport council also suspended its direct payments policy – introduced last year – after admitting it may have made poor decisions about how people could spend their money.

The cancellations came after the family of a disabled woman challenged the authority’s decision to cut her direct payment last year. The law firm representing the family, Irwin Mitchell, said the reduction was because the woman – who is autistic and has a learning disability – was no longer allowed to use it to visit relatives. parents on weekends.

“Devastating impact” of the reduction in direct payments

The company said it had had a “devastating impact” on the woman’s quality of life, removing the “lifeline” of having contact with her family on weekends, an arrangement in place since 2008.

Irwin Mitchell said the council also told the family that it had used certain payments incorrectly in the past and issued a final notice for reimbursement, which the family felt compelled to pay following the threat of a legal action.

However, the company, on behalf of the family, then threatened the board with judicial review of the decisions unless it reversed them.

Irwin Mitchell argued that the 2021 policy – on which the decisions were based – breached eligibility rules under the Care Act 2014 by imposing a ‘total ban’ on using out-of-pocket payments for activities Recreation.

Among the outcomes listed in the eligibility regulations is “use of necessary facilities or services in the local community, including public transport and recreational facilities or services”. A webpage from Stockport council – last updated March 7, 2022 – states that people cannot use direct payments to “pay for leisure/luxury items eg cinema tickets or concert, football matches, beauty treatments and/or products”.

“Full U-turn”

Following the legal challenge, the board reversed its rulings, restoring the woman’s previous level of direct payments, Irwin Mitchell said. The company added that it also agreed to refund the money the family paid after learning they had used payments wrongly in the past.

“It was so painful to be accused of abuse of payments and the disruption of our daughter’s life left us with no choice but to seek legal advice,” the woman’s parents said.

“This complete U-turn by the board has proven us right and while we’re happy with the result, it should never have happened in the first place.”

The board has also suspended the direct payments policy, pending a review, which it aims to culminate in the publication of a new policy by mid-August. It also contacts anyone who has made a decision about how they spend their payments to reduce or eliminate them.

A spokesperson said: “Stockport Council is reviewing its previous direct payments policy after listening to concerns raised by residents.

“We accept that we may not have made the right decisions”

“We accept that last year we may have made decisions about how direct payments can be spent that are not correct. We are now reviewing those decisions urgently to ensure we are fair, consistent and compliant with healthcare law.

“As a result, we have decided to discontinue using the existing approach and policy for determining what people can and cannot spend their payments on until we have completed further review and agreed to a new policy, which we will publish by mid-August 2022. .

“We would like to apologize to anyone affected by this issue. We understand the changes to support plans, and direct payments can be a stressful experience and we sincerely apologize for any concerns we may have caused.

Mathieu Culverhouse, partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The family’s determination to challenge council decisions could now have far-reaching implications, opening the door for others facing similar direct payment decisions.

“By refusing to reinstate its direct payment and continuing to implement the new direct payment policy, the council was failing to meet its assessed needs. With the withdrawal of the new policy, our client will once again have the lifeline of maintaining contact with her family over the weekend.