A local authority is facing a judicial review challenge over its plans for a £225,000 funding reduction to short break services. The legal action against West Berkshire Council is being brought by the families of two severely disabled children, a 14-year-old boy (B) and an 8-year-old girl (E) from Newbury.
West Berkshire’s budget for short breaks will reportedly be cut by 54% to £190,000 for 2016/17 following a decision made by the council at a meeting on 1 March.
The claimants argue that the funding reduction is unlawful, including breaching the Breaks For Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011. The regulations are designed to safeguard the needs of carers who would be better able to care for their disabled child more effectively if short breaks were provided.
The parents of B, who has autism and a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called William’s Syndrome, said the “life-saving” short breaks services enabled their son not only to have meaningful social experiences, but gave them a much needed break to spend quality time with his siblings and each other.
The parents of E, who is eight years old and has autism, ADHD, epilepsy and cortical dysplasia, said they relied on short breaks services to give E the opportunity to play with children her own age and so they can spend quality time with their 12-year-old son.
The claimants said the cuts meant B and E would no longer be able to access the same level of services as they did before.
Alice Cullingworth, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said the council had been invited to reverse its decision and “think again” after having assessed the sufficiency of short breaks for families in West Berkshire. The authority has also been asked to apply some of its reserves to prevent cuts to short breaks.
She added: “There is no evidence West Berkshire properly analysed the level of demand for children’s short breaks services or what services will be available to meet this demand with a reduced budget of £190,000 for 2016/17.
“Nor is there proper and lawful consideration as to whether the council will be providing a sufficient range of day-time care, overnight care, educational or leisure activities, and services to assist carers in the evenings, weekends or school holidays as the law requires.”
Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers has been instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimants.
A spokesman for West Berkshire said: “We are aware that a judicial review application has been made by Irwin Mitchell. We do not believe it is well founded. We will not be in a position to comment further until the legal proceedings have concluded.”