Financial Constraints and the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014

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The Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 (“the Welsh Act”) places a “general” duty on certain bodies to promote the “well-being” of various social groups. This article considers a recent ‘English’ case, applicable – by analogy – to the Welsh Act that has certain implications about the relevance of financial constraints to decisions under the Welsh Act.

Budgetary considerations clearly played a role in the local authority’s decision to move a severely autistic, 24 year old man in R (JF) v Merton LBC. A local authority conducted a needs assessment under the relevant ‘English’ sister Act and concluded that JF’s needs could be accommodated in a less supportive environment. Anne Whyte QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, quashed the authority’s assessment and its proposed move; her decision was mainly guided by the fact that the authority decided to move JF before it made an assessment of JF’s needs and, further, that the report commissioned by the ‘receiving’ residential home was insufficiently thorough.

The case of JF tells us a lot about the Court’s approach to the supervision of authority decisions under the Welsh Act; the Court will examine the decision on the ‘anxious scrutiny Wednesbury’ standard; that is, the Court will be greatly concerned with the reasonableness of each step of the authority’s decision-making process but will not necessarily prescribe a particular outcome. Consequently, if an authority is perfectly aware of the precise needs of an individual but simply lacks the resources to respond appropriately, then their decision will not necessarily be unreasonable.

Conceptually important, therefore, as the Welsh Act may be, financial considerations will continue to play a decisive role in frustrating attempts to reverse social deprivation. That said, authorities will need to be very clear about the role those considerations play in their decision-making process.

Giles Pengelly

First Six Pupil at Thirty Park Place Chambers, Cardiff