BARNET Council failed to comply with disability law when it decided to cut sheltered housing warden services, a High Court judge has ruled.

Sheltered housing residents brought a judicial review in the court in The Strand on December 2 and 3, in a linked case against both Barnet and Portsmouth Councils.

The central thrust of the claim was that neither council had followed the Disability Discrimination Act correctly when making their decision to replace residential wardens with a team of mobile wardens who would respond to pull-cord alarms.

His honour Judge Milwyn Jarman QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court said it was clear that neither the Disability Discrimination Act nor the specified needs it refers to were referred to in either decision or the report put before councillors when they made it.

However he said that failing to do this did not, as was claimed, amount to a failure in the Act.

He added: “What is required is that the duty is exercised in substance, with rigour and an open mind.”

While he said that both Barnet and Portsmouth Councils had some regard to the impact of the changes to residents as a group, he added: “neither authority in my judgement had any or sufficient regard to such an impact upon those residents with disabilities as a separate group or to the need to recognise that the taking into account of those disabilities may involve treating disabled persons more favourably than others.”

He said referring to the rights of disabled people in the documentation put before councillors, or a general awareness among officers or decision-makers of their duty under the Act did not go far enough.

He added: “In my judgement, it follows that in both cases there has been a failure to comply with that duty and in particular sub-section (d).

"That alone is sufficient to vitiate each of the decisions.”

Solicitor for the claimants, Yvonne Hossack, said: “We're absolutely delighted for all the people of Barnet who have been affected by this.

“Luckily it will mean a happier Christmas for them.”

The ruling's requirement that the councils demonstrate that decision makers as well as councillors give full and stated consideration to all relevant legislation and guidance could have far reaching effects on the way that councils make decisions.

A statement from Barnet Council said this raised “profound issues for the working of local government”.

It goes on: “There is a widely understood need for changes in the nature and scope of local government services. However we are concerned that reform, vital given current economic circumstances, could become almost impossible. Every reform has the potential to become a protracted legal challenge.

“For this reason, while respecting the court’s decision, the council will meet with lawyers later this week with a view to lodging an appeal.”

The statement adds: “The pressing need to reform our warden service, which reflects an outdated and unbalanced model of supporting older people, and is not available to people who remain in their own homes, is as strong as ever. The status quo is as open to challenge as any change."