Mental health aftercare services test case

Posted: 7th November 2017

Mental HealthIf negligence victims come into funds, in the form of compensation for their injuries, to what extent do they lose their entitlement to free assistance from local authorities? In a ruling, the Court of Appeal tackled that issue in the context of the Mental Health Act 1983.

The case concerned a man who was stricken by an organic personality disorder after he was knocked off his bicycle by a car. The motorist’s insurers accepted 90 per cent liability for the accident and the man was awarded damages totalling nearly £3.5 million, almost £2.9 million of which was to cover the costs of his future care.

Due to his injuries, it had been necessary to compulsorily detain the man in a mental health nursing home. However, the judge who made the award rejected arguments that it should be reduced to take account of the fact that public authorities owed a duty to provide for his future care under Section 117 of the Act.

Following his discharge from the home, he had funded his own accommodation from his damages. However, the extent of his care needs had given rise to concerns that his compensation might run out. In those circumstances, his legal deputy applied to the local authority under Section 117 to provide him with aftercare services free of charge. After the council refused, the deputy launched proceedings.

Following a preliminary hearing, a judge found that the council had acted unlawfully in refusing to provide aftercare services on the basis that the man had no need of such provision, being able to fund it himself from his damages.

In rejecting the council’s challenge to that ruling, the Court of Appeal found that it was neither immoral, nor low principled, for the man to claim a benefit to which Parliament had made clear he was entitled. It did not follow that an award of damages for his aftercare precluded him from applying to the council for free provision of such services.

The council’s refusal to provide the relevant services free was effectively the same as levying impermissible charges for their provision. There was also no legal basis for the council’s stance that it was not obliged to provide the services claimed until the man’s compensation ran out or dwindled to almost nothing. The Court's decision has opened the way for the man to claim the relevant services free of charge and to sue the council for damages in respect of a lengthy period during which they had not been provided.