Councils headed for court over welfare cuts

Cyril Dixon reports

COUNCILS face a stiff challenge to their welfare policies next month when the High Court begins hearing a series of legal bids to block cuts in social services.

Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Islington councils will be brought before the court in seven separate cases over their attempts to withdraw services.

The authorities are among dozens which claim they are being forced to make substantial cuts because of a shortfall in government funding.

Residents who have had their services cut are seeking a judicial review of the policy.

Six cases – four in Gloucestershire, two in Lancashire – have been brought with the support of the Public Law Project, a charity set up to provide greater access to the law. The Islington case is being brought privately.

Stephen Cragg, the project's solicitor, is using legislation including the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to argue councils would neglect their duty of care if they refused to reinstate services.

Cragg says: "This is about community care, but it is also about local government finance and the nature of duty. We say it is their duty to provide the services that they have withdrawn. We believe these will be very important cases."

The hearings begin on 6 June with one of the Gloucester residents, 75-year-old stroke victim Wesley Mahfood who is seeking re-instatement of his one-and-a-half hours per week home help. His case will be presented by a four-strong team of silks headed by Richard Gordon QC.