Protection for Disabled Volunteers – Ruled Out

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court has confirmed that disabled volunteers are not entitled to the same protection against discrimination as employees. The decision has been welcomed by charities, but keeps in place one of the barriers faced by disabled people trying to get into paid employment.
Volunteer adviser
The case concerned a woman known only as X, who became a volunteer adviser for the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in May 2006.
The position was unpaid and there was no contract, although a volunteer agreement (which was not legally binding) was signed. After about a year X was asked to stop working in circumstances that she claims amount to discrimination on grounds of disability. She then sued the CAB.
The case has worked its way up through the Employment Tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court, without considering whether discrimination actually took place. There was another question to answer first – whether the case could actually be heard at all.
Disability discrimination
In the UK the law against disability discrimination is governed largely by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and a European Directive. If these laws don’t apply to your particular claim, then generally it cannot go ahead – and that is exactly what the CAB argued in this case.
The Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal all agreed, but X appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that her voluntary activities amounted to an “occupation”, and were therefore covered by the Directive. The protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability should therefore extend to her, she said.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
Since the appellant had no contract, she did not on the face of it benefit from the domestic protection afforded by the 1995 Act, it said. Whether she could have any claim therefore depended upon whether the Directive should be given a wide interpretation, covering volunteers in her position.
Again, the Court said no, confirming that the Directive is not unlimited in scope or extent, but that it instead provides carefully defined protections against discrimination on grounds of disability in specified circumstances. Her situation did not fall into these circumstances.
Likely impact
In effect nothing will change. The ruling simply confirms the existing position, and gives a bit of certainty to charities, many of which are struggling to survive in the current climate.
However, with many disabled people relying on volunteer work to help them get into paid employment, the ruling will not make things any easier for them.
Author by-line: This is a guest post from Thompsons Solicitors Scotland.

£500 benefits cap will apply to parents of disabled children reaching adulthood

Surprise, surprise after repeated denials that disabled people will be exempt from the £500-a-week benefit cap that is due to come into force in April, there has come to light a mistruth . It applies to carers looking after their disabled children when they reach adulthood.

Last week in the Commons pensions minister Esther McVey said: “In practice most carers will be exempt from the cap because their partner or child is in receipt of disability living allowance “. When pressurised by  Labour MP Andrew Gwynne to look at the rules again Ester McVey then admitted: “Should there be another adult in the house, that is then a separate household, so both have to be assessed separately.”

Ministers have now accepted that if a parent is still looking after a disabled child after they reach adulthood, even if the child’s mental age is as low as eight, the parent and the child will be treated separately, and the parent will be subject to the benefits cap.

This now makes it possible that some parents may have to move out of their home or put their child into care. Letters are already being sent to carers with offspring aged over 20 confirming the change in the rules.

Discretionary payments are claimed to be available to prevent hardship in government documentation with regard to welfare payments changes. The introduction of Personal Independence Payment (replacing DLA) and Universal Credit coming in to force in stages from April 2013 hopefully provides this safeguard.

Anxiety has now been thrust upon some parents/carers who thought they would not be affected by this cap as another welfare reform nightmare sufaces.

It is quite possible that lives will be shortened and even ended by a simple and silent killer  – STRESS – because some of the most vulnerable in our society are being scared to death. The reason for wefare reforms may have be unavoidable (the nations skint) but it’s been sickening hearing the goverments justification for changes supposedly fairer, more empathetic and simplified as they are clearly not going to be. Everybody’s personal circumstances define how they will cope with these changes – lets hope most do!.

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