Contributing to community care cost

A fight has erupted over whether local authorities can force people to contribute to their home care costs, reports Roger Pearson

Local authorities throughout the country are awaiting judgment in a case that could have widespread implications for the financing of community care services.

The pending High Court decision by Mr Justice Popplewell follows the challenge by multiple sclerosis sufferer, Jenny Hambridge, over the powers of her local authority to make her contribute £10 a week to the cost of providing her with home assistance.

While this case involves Hambridge contributing a mere £10 a week, local authority charges of this nature on a nationwide basis are understood to amount to around £175m a year.

If Hambridge wins her case then many local authorities could face similar challenges, and current community care financing could be put under threat.

The case, which has focused the attention of the courts on this aspect of care funding, centres on a wheelchair-bound divorced mother of four, who lives alone and has, since September last year, been required by Powys County Council to make the £10-a-week contribution she is now challenging.

At the High Court hearing, her counsel, Richard Gordon QC, argued that, irrespective of the level of her private resources, the council had no power to impose the charges.

He said that the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 do not entitle local authorities to impose such charges, and that without authority from Parliament a public body is not entitled to raise money in this way.

Robin Barratt QC, acting for the county council, argued that the power for local authorities to charge for such community care services is contained in s.17 of the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act 1983. He argued that no "unfairness or difficulty" would be caused by requiring contributions from recipients of community care who can afford them.

Steven Kovats, counsel for the Department of Social Security, argued that a ruling for Hambridge would prevent local authorities clawing back the costs of care even from those who could afford it.