Councils owe a continued duty of care to vulnerable people even if they have been awarded a personal injury settlement

Posted on: February 5th, 2018

The High Court has thrown out a Local Authority’s judicial review application into whether personal injury awards can be taken into account during financial assessments of people with eligible care needs. This confirms that councils owe a continued duty of care to vulnerable people even if they have been awarded a personal injury settlement.

Wokingham Borough Council applied for the judicial review after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found it was at fault because it refused to disregard a personal injury award when assessing the finances of a woman, who was awarded £1.2m in 1998 for medical negligence dating back to 1975, which left her with lifelong care needs.

In July 2015 the council assessed the woman as having eligible care needs, shortly after she moved to their area, but then spent months questioning the woman’s financial affairs. It argued, without a clear legal basis, that the care element of her personal injury award could be taken into account and should be used to support her care needs. Her solicitor complained to the ombudsman that the council had failed to assess the woman’s finances properly.

Last February the ombudsman concluded that the law makes it clear that personal injury awards must be disregarded in financial assessments, unless the court has specifically required that support from the council cannot be sought. In these cases the order will include an undertaking to prevent ‘double recovery’; this is known as a ‘Peters undertaking’ in reference to the case of Peters v East Midlands Strategic Health Authority.

Wokingham decided to challenge the ombudsman’s interpretation of the law with its unsuccessful application to the High Court for a judicial review with the court concluding their challenge was ‘totally without merit’.

Local Government Ombudsman Michael King said: ‘The judge has ruled and confirmed our interpretation of the law was within the range of reasonable responses. Councils can be clear about the way we will look at any similar cases that come to my office.”

We assist a number of clients who have received a personal injury award and are wrongly refused support from their local council, often obtaining significant sums in reimbursement. We hope this decision clarifies the law on care payments and reduces protests from councils about ‘double recovery’.

Spencer Gardner is an Associate in our Vulnerable People and Court of Protection team. He can be contacted if you have any questions about obtaining your entitlement to council support services.