Sufferer issues test case threat
By Haydn Lewis
A WOMAN suffering from ME is taking legal action which could see City of York Council's entire care charging policy rendered illegal.
Janis Thomson, 46, of Victoria Way, Huntington, York, is to challenge the authority over its charging policy for adult social services after her monthly bills shot up by 72 per cent from £82.40 to £141.44. If Ms Thomson wins her case it could affect 1,300 people in York who are on disability benefits and get disability-related council expenditure.
Ridley & Hall, Ms Thomson's solicitors, claim the council's policy is unlawful because there has been a failure to take account of guidance issued by the Department of Health. They say the policy is unlawful because although York takes into account a person's disability benefits, it does not assess disability related expenditure as the law requires.
Ms Thomson, who has severe ME – also known as chronic fatigue syndrome – is confined to bed and dependant on a package of care from City of York Council's housing and adult social services department. Her charges were increased when the council revised its charging policy for non-residential care services in April 2007. Ridley & Hall solicitors have sent a letter threatening legal proceedings to the council. The council now has two weeks to respond. If the council does not do what is requested, judicial review proceedings can be issued at the High Court in London. The court has the power to declare the council's policy unlawful.
If the policy is declared unlawful, it is likely that the council will have to assess the disability related expenditure of all service users in York. It is not yet known how many people that might affect. James Wilson, a solicitor at Ridley & Hall, said: "The guidance is perfectly clear. Local authorities cannot count disability benefits as income
unless they have assessed the additional costs a person has due to their disability. "I find it difficult to believe that City of York Council has approved the current policy without realising that it would breach central Government guidance."
Ms Thomson said: "The first I knew the policy had been changed was when I received a letter telling me that the council were increasing my contributions. The council never told me that it was under a duty to assess my disability- related expenditure. "When the council does assess my disability related expenditure, my financial contribution will be much lower. There will be many people in York affected by the increase."
A council spokeswoman said: "City of York Council has now received the letter and will be responding directly to Ms Thompson's solicitors. "The policy was decided following consultation and consideration of alternative approaches and is one that we believe takes into account disability-related expenditure for all customers and allows for consideration of additional expenditure or hardship if required."