Disabled barrister leads care charges campaign

Barrister  Michael Tooley, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis
Barrister Michael Tooley, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis

A DISABLED barrister has launched a legal battle against Sheffield City Council over its decision to increase care service charges for 1,200 vulnerable people.

Criminal prosecutor Michael Tooley, who has severe multiple sclerosis, is urging other disabled and elderly people to join his battle, which follows the authority’s decision to lift the cap on how much adults pay for home and day care services.

Of the 5,000 people who use the services, 1,200 are now paying more for their care, after the maximum personal contribution was raised from £114 per week to £350.

Most of those people are paying an extra £5 to £50 – but some are having to find as much as £236 more each week.

Mr Tooley, who cannot stand or walk and can only use one arm, is taking the council to court over its approach.

The 51-year-old father of two teenagers, who lives in Nether Edge, is assisted by council-provided carers who help him get out of bed, dress and get to work at Sheffield Crown Court.

If his legal bid fails, he will be among 61 Sheffield residents whose contributions rocket from £114 to £350 every week – an additional payment of £12,272 a year.

Mr Tooley said: “This increase is excessive, unfair and disproportionate.

“I accept some increase is needed to meet inflation and because of the national economy, but to raise the charge by more than 200% is clearly disproportionate.

“There are many other people who are adversely affected by these excessive increases, who might not have my specialised legal knowledge, or even know that the judicial review route is available. I hope those people get in touch.”

Mr Tooley’s solicitor, Yogi Amin, a partner at Sheffield law firm Irwin Mitchell, said the council raised the charges despite a public consultation which showed most people were against the change.

“We have raised fundamental flaws in the council’s consultation process and a potential legal challenge for breach of their statutory duties under the Equality Act 2010,” said Mr Amin.

It is being pointed out that Government minister Grant Shapps said in the Commons that all local authorities should ensure that the most vulnerable people should be protected from public spending cuts.

Mr Tooley’s wife Mary Butler, 52, also a lawyer, said: “This is not just about us – there are many other people affected, some of whom have already cancelled their care.

“It is bad enough having your lives torn apart by such serious misfortune, without having your finances ruined also.

“We cannot afford to pay up to £18,200 per year without wrecking the financial planning we have done for retirement, to put our children through further education and to avoid being a burden on society.

“The council says this was a choice between increasing contributions and cutting frontline services. But what is a more frontline service than supporting the disabled and their families?”

Ms Butler said: “The care package which has been given to him allows for us, as a family, to try and live as normal a life as possible in very abnormal circusmtances without me, his wife, becoming completely exhausted and stressed out.

“Even so, I get up at 6.30am every day and by the time I have got Mike to bed, given him his medication, etc, it usually 10.30pm to 10.45pm. In that time, I will have virtually no leisure.

“At the weekends, I may manage an hour or so to read the paper or engage in other social activities, but this is by no means guaranteed.

“Even allowing for the care package, I estimate that I give at least ten to 12 hours unpaid care per week.”

Eddie Sherwood, the council’s director of care and support, said: “We cannot comment on any pending individual court case and this claim has been referred to our lawyers for consideration.

“Our lawyers are currently awaiting a reply from the complainant’s lawyers in response to various points they have made.

“We feel we followed all due process around consultation, taking full account of the impact any changes would have on individuals, and have only asked people to contribute to the cost if they have the ability to pay. This reflects national guidelines.”

Mr Tooley urged other people who are paying increased charges to urgently contact Conor Maguire or Charlotte Panas at Irwin Mitchell on 0870 1500100.

The deadline for starting legal proceedings is December 8.