Reasons challenges to LA charging and care home fees decisions

April 27th, 2016

When LAs make decisions as to charging for care services and care home fees, can those decisions be subject to a public law reasons challenge, if so what is required, and what are constraints on LAs defending such challenges? Those were the issues the Administrative Court grappled with last week in R (Bhandari) v Croydon LBC (Blake J, 21 April 2016). So far the case has only been reported on subscription services Westlaw and Lawtel.

Croydon had refused to reimburse care home fees paid by a family, on the basis that the resident had capital above the threshold, as he had interests in four properties. The family’s lawyers set out a detailed case as to why the interests in those properties were so small as to not reach the capital threshold. Croydon operated an appeal panel system, and the family made its case to that panel.

The LA appeal panel refused the appeal, and failed to engage with the case made by the family as to why the resident’s interests fell below the threshold. The family threatened and issued a JR challenge. The local authority appears to have missed a number of opportunities to explain its decision-making, and waited until after permission had been granted and shortly before the substantive JR claim to offer its reasons.

Blake J held this was not good enough. The evidence came too late, and he refused to rely on it. There was no good reason for the delay. The evidence should have come at the latest with the summary grounds of resistance.

The court held that there is a reasons duty applicable to such decisions, and without its late evidence Croydon could not satisfy that reasons duty. Croydon’s appeal panel decision was accordingly quashed for want of reasons, Blake J stating that local authorities must give clear explanations as to how they have assessed an individual’s ability to pay accommodation costs.

The decision is a useful clarification of what we probably already knew: there is a reasons duty applicable to LA decisions on responsibility for care home fees. Logically the same principle must extend to all LA charging decisions.

The reality is that this claim should never have got as far as it did. The defendant LA had many opportunities to explain its position, eg in its appeal panel decision, in its response to initial inquiries, in response to the PAP letter, in response to the claim when filed, or in any correspondence in between. It is not easy to see why it missed all of those opportunities.

For those seeking to challenge LA charging and care home fees decisions though, the case represents a useful authority to use to put a degree of pressure on LA decision-making. It would be surprising though if such pressure worked to the same effect on another occasion.

As to the content of this duty, it is not an onerous one, but it certainly stretches to stating why the fundamental points raised by an appellant are not accepted, and it is not enough to give a standard form rejection. If authority is needed for that (very little was cited to Blake J in this case), then it can be found in JR cases on school admissions reasons challenges.

Jonathan Auburn
email: ja@11kbw.com
twitter: @jonaub11kbw

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