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London borough faces legal action over proposed closure of respite facility

The London Borough of Ealing is facing legal action over proposals to close a respite care facility for young people with complex disabilities.

The proceedings against the council are being brought by law firm Irwin Mitchell on behalf of the family of a 17-year-old, severely disabled boy (C) who has used Heller House in Southall for two nights per week since December 2010. C has also used the nine-bedroom children’s home for short breaks.

Ealing took the decision on 16 February to close the facility. The claimant argues, however, that no alternative respite care has been formalised and children who use Heller House could be forced to travel out of the borough.

Calling on the council to rescind its decision, Irwin Mitchell claimed that, because Ealing decided to close the facility without knowing whether there would be suitable alternative services available, the decision was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 as the council did not know whether and how disabled children would be detrimentally affected.

The law firm said C’s family relied on respite services to enable him to have meaningful social interactions with other youngsters in a safe and controlled environment as well as to give them a much needed break to spend time with their other children, including C’s 20-year-old brother who also has autism and complex needs and lives in a residential placement most of the time.

Alice Cullingworth, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “We have spoken to a number of families who have told us that they would like to use the Heller House service if it were available, who either did not know about it or have not been able to access the service to date. 

“It’s clear that by closing the only in-borough provider of overnight respite that there is a risk that if alternative providers lack capacity out of borough then children may not be able to access services to meet their assessed needs.”

She added: “We have spoken to a local councillor, Jon Ball, who confirmed that in his opinion it appears negotiations between Ealing Council and other local authorities are far from concrete, and that only very superficial conversations with other local authorities have been conducted to date.

“Councillor Ball confirmed to us that he believes there is no agreement presently with other local authorities, even in outline, which means a decision has been made to close this invaluable facility without a concrete alternative for the young people who so highly depend on it.”

Jamie Burton of Doughty Street Chambers is instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimant.

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