Landmark ruling in Kirkcaldy finds Fife Council breached the 2010 Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty
Charities have warned Scottish councils risk breaking the law if they do not acknowledge their duty of care towards young disabled people doesn’t end as they turn 18.
The Scottish Disability Equality Forum made the warning following a landmark Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court ruling that Fife Council broke new equalities legislation by ending its financial support of disabled student David Miller on the day of his 18th birthday.
The court found by ending Miller’s support on the basis of his age the local authority had breached the 2010 Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty as it had failed to assess his needs or explore the impact removing his funding would have.
The sheriff’s judgement said from that moment on, nothing was done to assist the pursuer, who used his funding to attend an independent residential school, in his transition from school to adult life.
“He was, in effect, abandoned,” the sheriff added.
This case sets a precedent affecting local authorities. It ensures they have a legal as well as moral duty to provide adequate support for disabled young people regardless of their age
Susan Grasekamp, chief executive of Scottish Disability Equality Forum, said Miller’s case was far from unusual and many councils appeared to believe their duties towards a disabled young person somehow change when they become termed an adult at 18.
“As this case shows, a council’s responsibilities under the law don’t change with age,” she said.
“The extreme pressure on adult social care budgets means the result can be a significant reduction in the provision of specialist equipment, support or funding.
“But this case sets a precedent affecting local authorities. It ensures they have a legal as well as moral duty to provide adequate support for disabled young people regardless of their age.
Lynn Welsh, head of legal Scotland at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, also warned other councils. She said: “The Equality Act requires service providers not to discriminate in the provisions of services. The court has found Fife Council clearly did discriminate in relation both to David’s age and disability when they set the arbitrary date of his 18th birthday to remove the support package which allowed him to continue his studies.
“We would expect other authorities to ensure their own policies and practices do not discriminate in a similar way.”
Colin Young, senior outcomes officer at the Health and Social Care Alliance, said: “David’s wish to continue in education should have been enabled to reflect his right to learning opportunities, increasing autonomy and his opportunity to live independently.”
A spokeswoman for Fife Council: “We do not feel it’s appropriate to comment and discuss the detail of individual cases publicly.
“We are committed to helping young people plan and choose the best, most appropriate pathway from school to post-school destinations for them.
“We are now following legal advice and appealing the decision made by the sheriff.”