High Court puts temporary stop to proposed dismantling of learning disabled residents’ homes
13 March 2015
An order obtained by Bindmans LLP temporarily halting the far-reaching and controversial changes being made by Camphill Village Trust (CVT) to the living arrangements of three of the learning disabled residents of Botton Village – a community administered by CVT – was made by the High Court on Friday, 13 March 2015.
The claim for judicial review was issued that afternoon following the refusal of CVT’s solicitors to properly engage in correspondence or provide the information and documents requested on behalf of the residents. The Claimants’ case is that the dismantling of the current arrangements at Botton Village in which learning disabled residents live in homes with non-disabled individuals and families (known as co-workers) – a model which has operated successfully for over 60 years – amounts to a breach of the residents’ rights under Article 8(1) ECHR, given the close and inter-dependent relationships between the residents and their co-workers that have developed over the many years that each has lived in Botton Village.
One of the central tenets of Botton Village has always been that the co-workers have not been paid for the care they provide to the residents, instead, they receive accommodation, food, and other expenses are met on the basis of need. In the autumn of 2014, CVT’s Chief Executive informed the co-workers that in the light of a non-binding ‘opinion’ provided by HMRC, based on information predominantly supplied by CVT themselves, as to the status of the co-workers, all co-workers would be treated as employees in respect of their employment and tax status from April 2015. On 18 February 2015, CVT’s Chief Executive gave all co-workers who had refused to accept employment, notices to quit the homes they currently occupied, and confirmed that their financial support from CVT would come to an end on 31 March 2015, and they would have to leave their homes by 31 May 2015 (or July for those with children).
A number of significant changes to the make up of Botton Village have already taken place. Since May 2014, eight co-workers have left. Seven are in the process of leaving. The locks on 10 houses/ flats have been changed by CVT, as have the locks on the maintenance building, a number of offices and the Pottery, with no co-worker or villager given the new keys to enable access. Tenants have been moved in to three of the previously run co-worker houses, and residents moved out of two houses, with, in one instance, the house being handed over to ex-co-workers, and completely refitted, and in another, the house handed over to new support workers.
It was against this desperate background that the claim for judicial review was issued.
Laura Hobey-Hamsher of Bindmans LLP, who represented the three claimants, said: “Going to court was not a decision lightly taken, but in the circumstances, my clients were left with no choice. One of my clients has lived in Botton Village for over 20 years, the other two have lived there for 10 and 5. All view it as their home, and their house-parents as their second families. What then is being proposed is the breaking up of real family units. The changes made to date have already caused these three vulnerable individuals real and palpable distress. The thought of the family lives that they have developed being destroyed is frightening and incomprehensible in equal measure” She adds “The fact that the order sought was granted in a matter of hours is a good indicator that the claim is meritorious, and has provided no small degree of reassurance to my clients.”
Jackie Riis-Johannessen, mother of Luci, one of the residents of Botton Village said: “To be able to tell our daughter that she no longer needs to feel frightened by unwelcome CVT managers coming to her house, coming to meet her to tell about their plans for her future care, was a great relief. Lucinda, as well as feeling thoroughly dis-empowered and frightened by CVT's actions, feels she has to tackle this problem alone and has a huge sense of responsibility to protect the people she lives with; far too big a load for her. This news is clearly an enormous weight off her young shoulders in every way.”
Fran Franics, mother of Dan, one of the residents of Botton Village said: “This was one of the best presents I have ever received. I know there is still a long way to go and the outcome is not guaranteed but at this point we have the order that we were seeking and renewed optimism. Dan has been so anxious and distressed knowing he might not be able to continue to live with his house parents and their children and not understanding why. When I phoned him and told him the judge had said that for now, his co-workers can stay and the judge will decide soon if they have to leave at all, it was great to hear the relief in his voice as he quietly said, ‘That’s good, I don’t want my house parents and the children to go.”
Brian Knight, father of Tracey, one of the residents of Botton Village said: “When I explained to Tracey that a judge was now going to decide if it was necessary for Claire to leave at the end of March she was so very pleased and happy. Botton Village has been Tracey’s home for over 20 years and she simply cannot understand why everything that she loves and enjoys has to change and be taken away from her.”
Laura Hobey-Hamsher is the solicitor instructed, with Martha Spurrier of Doughty Street Chambers as Counsel.
This situation is set against the backdrop of national concern, with the launch of the Green Paper by Normal Lamb ‘No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored’. In a recent BBC interview Mr Lamb relayed that he felt the learning disabled are being ”treated like second-class citizens with decisions being made about them without them being involved and without their families being involved”
Political support for the community’s struggle is growing with mention of the situation by Baroness Hollins in the House of Lords last week, over 30 MPs of all political colours writing to express their concern, the minister for Disable people Mark Harper holding an enquiry at another CVT site in his constituency, The Grange, and both the Labour and Lib-dem local candidates expressing their support for the campaign opposing changes at Botton.
CVT is already under scrutiny with campaigners highlighting serious questions including a worrying lack of transparency in their accounts and, this month, a sudden Trustee resignation citing governance issues including concerns relating to the Articles and Memorandum. In addition, there are claims of harassment being made to local Police and pending actions for compensation by ex-community members who claim to have been bullied out of their communities. Finally a letter before action from campaigners, including parents from one community now devoid of Co-workers, has been issued over potential breaches of the charity’s articles and a form of manipulation of membership before last year’s AGM.