The Court of Appeal has ruled that North East Lincolnshire Council should have paid the cost of a disabled young woman attending a weekly placement, overturning an earlier High Court decision.
Giving judgment in CP, R (On the Application Of) v North East Lincolnshire Council  (EWCA) Civ (EWCA) Civ 1614, Haddon-Cave LJ said the case brought for CP by her father and litigation friend JP was complex but turned on straightforward legal analysis.
He said the case raised issues concerning the parallel duties owed by a local authority under the Care Act 2014 and the Children and Families Act 2014.
CP appealed over the cost of her attendance at a weekday placement called Fix n'Kiks, run by a charity, Disability Active, organised by her father.
North East Lincolnshire has paid £10,800 a year into CP's personal budget for attendance at Fix n'Kiks since November 2017 but had refused pay these costs for the period from April 2016 until then.
Haddon-Cave LJ said HHJ Wood QC in the High Court ”got part of his analysis right but then fell into error” by finding for the council despite it being in breach of a statutory duty.
“In my view, the judge's approach and decision on this basis was wrong and heterodox,” he said.
“A breach of a statutory duty is a breach of statutory duty. It is, by definition, unlawful conduct. Unlawful conduct by a public body cannot merely be discounted or ignored.
“Moreover, s. 26 is no minor matter. A local authority's statutory duty under s. 26 of the Care Act 2014 to provide a personal budget to meet a person's care and support needs is fundamental to the operation of the care and support scheme which the Care Act 2014 underpins.”
HHJ Wood should therefore, having found the council in breach of its statutory duties, “gone on to hold that the council had acted unlawfully and, accordingly, was liable in principle to compensate CP in respect of any monetary shortfall in accordance with normal public law principles of legal accountability of public bodies”.
North East Lincolnshire also argued that JP was the real claimant in the case as he was in effect, “using the proceedings inappropriately to profit from the claim” since Disability Active, which owned Fix n’Kiks, was a charity organised and controlled by him.
Haddon-Cave LJ said: “In my view, this argument is misconceived. There is no conflict of interest on the part of Mr JP. The claim is brought in the name of CP because it is her legal rights which have been breached and it is her legal entitlement to compensation from the council for failing to fulfil its statutory duty to provide fully for her care needs.
“Further, there was no basis for suggesting that Disability Active was not a perfectly lawful charity, run on an arms-length basis. If and in so far as the facilities were adjudged suitable for CP, there is no reason why Disability Active should not charge for their use, just as they would any other user.”