On 18 December 2012, the government announced that the Independent Living Fund (ILF) would close on 31 March 2015 with funding transferred to local authorities in England and to the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. This announcement followed an extensive consultation exercise on the future of the Independent Living Fund.
The legality of this decision was challenged in the High Court through judicial review proceedings brought by 5 Independent Living Fund users. At the High Court hearing, in March 2013, the Court found that the consultation had been carried out in a fair and proper manner and that “due regard” was paid to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).
The High Court decision was subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal and following an appeal hearing in October 2013 the Court delivered its judgment on 6 November 2013. The Court of Appeal did not make any findings on the merits of the decision to close the Independent Living Fund and upheld the department’s position on the consultation, finding that it had been carried out properly and fairly. However, the Court allowed the appeal on the PSED points, holding that more documentary evidence was required to demonstrate that ministers were aware of the full extent of the potential impact of closure on Independent Living Fund users, and to demonstrate that they had given due regard to all three parts of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Following the Court’s decision, the department took action to ensure that all activities being undertaken by the Independent Living Fund to prepare for closure were stopped with immediate effect.
Since the judgment was given, I have taken time to reflect on the Court of Appeal’s decision. A new equality analysis has been undertaken and further advice provided to enable me to make a new decision on the future of the Independent Living Fund.
I have considered the implications of closing the fund very carefully before reaching my decision on the way forward. This has included in-depth consideration of all of the various aspects of the PSED and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It is clear to me, from considering all of the evidence, that there is considerable concern among Independent Living Fund users, about the potential impact of closing the fund on their independence and on their ability to exercise choice and control over how their care and support is managed. I also recognise that many users believe that closing the Independent Living Fund will affect their ability to continue to live independently in their own homes, to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and to participate in social activities.
However, I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach. The key features that have contributed to the Independent Living Fund’s success, in particular, the choice and control it has given disabled people over how their care and support is managed, are now provided, or are very soon to be provided, within the mainstream system. To continue with the present arrangements, which benefit a relatively small proportion of disabled people, would therefore fail to take account of the significant developments in adult social care and the changes which have been made in the past 20 years, in the way disabled people are supported to live independent lives.
I remain committed to maintaining awards to current users until the Independent Living Fund closes. However, I do not think that the current two-tier arrangements are justified and it is my intention to close the Independent Living Fund on 30 June 2015. Following closure, local authorities in England will take direct responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current Independent Living Fund users in line with their statutory responsibilities. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will determine how Independent Living Fund users in each of those parts of the UK, are supported within their distinct care and support systems. As previously announced, at the point of transfer local authorities and the devolved administrations will be funded to enable them to meet their new responsibilities towards former Independent Living Fund users.
Before receiving the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the Independent Living Fund had been making excellent progress to deliver its Transfer Review Programme – an ambitious and complex programme to enable both local authorities and Independent Living Fund users to prepare for the transfer to the new arrangements.
The suspension of closure activity, to allow time for the future of the Independent Living Fund to be fully considered, means that asking the Independent Living Fund to complete the transfer programme within the original timescales would involve an unacceptable degree of risk. For that reason, I will be asking the Independent Living Fund to resume closure activity immediately, to deliver a re-planned programme that will achieve closure by 30 June 2015. This will allow additional time to ensure that adequate transfer arrangements have been made in respect of all ILF users.
The equality analysis Closure of the Independent Living Fund, undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions, will be published on my department’s website. Copies will also be placed in the Library. The equality analysis records all analysis carried out by the department to enable a full and thorough consideration of the extent of the potential impact of closure on Independent Living Fund users, and demonstrates full consideration of the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty as set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.