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High Court

High Court rules autistic man’s social and life skills activities must be classed as disability related expenditure

A 25-year-old man with autism has won his legal case which argued that the cost of activities related to attending a daily social and life skills group should be deemed disability related expenditure (DRE) and cannot be ignored when calculating how much he should pay towards the cost of his care.

Posted on 21 June 2023

The ruling in the High Court means the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council must now deduct the cost of these activities from his income when calculating how much money he has available to contribute towards the costs of his care.

The judge criticised the defendant’s decision to disallow the claimant’s activity costs, stating that the decision “suffered from the legal fallacy that the activities were not related to the claimant’s disability and were unnecessary and unreasonable”.

The ruling means local authorities must not assume that activities which may appear social in nature cannot be claimed as disability related expenditure (DRE) if they are related to a person’s disability. Indeed, the court emphasised in its judgment that “the power contained in the DRE regulations has as its existential purpose the reasonable and fair assessment” of the ways in which people living with a disability should be supported.

When the council refused to allow the cost of the activities as DRE, the man’s care charges were so high that he could not afford the essential costs of living.

The claimant, who was represented in his legal case by Leigh Day and barrister Emma Foubister from Matrix Chambers, is a vulnerable adult who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

He has difficulties communicating and can struggle to make himself understood, which causes him significant anxiety. He is unable to understand nonverbal communication, which makes it difficult to have and maintain friendships and means he can be vulnerable to exploitation.

A fundamental part of his care plan is attending the activities organised by his social and life skills group which the man usually attends three times a week.

His family say that since he has attended this group and the activities that it organises, the claimant is happier and more confident. Without these activities he can become withdrawn, isolated and depressed.

The claimant, who wishes to remain anonymous, said:

“I am very glad to have won this case and it will help me to continue attending my group without all the financial worry.”

Lucy Cadd, solicitor at Leigh Day, added:

“The decision to allow the cost of the claimant’s social and life skills activities as disability related expenditure will have a significant and positive impact on his life. This is a very sensible and robust judgment that will have important implications for the way claims for disability related expenditure should be considered by local authorities. It confirms that the individual must be placed front and centre in the decision-making process and that their wishes and feelings be taken seriously.

“The local authority in this case argued that the claimant should be attending alternative activities purely because they were cheaper. The court robustly disagreed with this approach and found that expenditure must be viewed rationally as well as humanely and in keeping with the principle that outcomes and decisions should not be made exclusively for financial reasons. Going forward, local authorities will need to consider any claim for disability related expenditure on a case-by-case basis, fairly and sensitively examining the claimant’s needs by reference to their care plan and flexibly interpreting the regulations and guidance which have been informed by the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.”

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Lucy Cadd (1)
Human rights

Lucy Cadd

Lucy Cadd is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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