Ruling sparks care scare

COUNCIL lawyers throughout the country have begun examining a key High Court ruling amid fears that they face a legal challenge over the hiving off of residential care homes.

They are worried that the judgement, which halts Wandsworth Council's privatisation programme, may be turned against them.

Wandsworth, the south London Tory flagship borough, wants to sell off three out of its four homes for the elderly, and close the remaining one.

However, the move was blocked by Mr Justice Popplewell, who claimed the council had wrongly interpreted section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948, which deals with residential care provision.

Hearing a challenge to the policy brought to the High Court by a group of Wandsworth residents, he said councils have to provide some residential care for pensioners.

Now Wandsworth plans to overturn the ruling, claiming the decision obliges it to provide residential care for all groups with potential need. The case is expected to go to the Court of Appeal next month.

Wandsworth says it has been approached by many local authority lawyers worried about the implications for past and ongoing care home privatisation.

"The phone has been buzzing all week," says a spokesman. "There are councils which have gone further along the road than us, and they are concerned about what this means for them."

Wandsworth's case is being prepared by a legal team headed by counsel Alan Wilkie QC and borough solicitor