Cornwall Council (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Health and Somerset County Council  UKSC 46
This case concerned PH who has severe physical and learning disabilities and is without speech. He lacks capacity to decide for himself where to live. He receives accommodation and support at public expense, initially under the Children Act 1989, and since his majority under the National Assistance Act 1948. The issue was: which authority should be responsible?
This depended, under sections 24(1) and (5) of the 1948 Act, on, where immediately before his placement in Somerset, he was "ordinarily resident".
BACKGROUND TO THE APPEALS
This appeal concerns “PH”, a young man with physical and learning disabilities, who was born in
Wiltshire in 1986. He lacks capacity to decide for himself where he lives. Since 1991, PH has been living
with foster parents in South Gloucestershire. In 1991 PH’s parents moved away from Wiltshire to
Cornwall. PH occasionally visited them there, including at the end of 2004 just before his eighteenth
birthday. Since he turned eighteen, PH has lived in two care homes in Somerset. The cost of PH’s care
is currently estimated to be £80,000 per year for the rest of his life. There is no dispute that he is entitled
to support. The issue is which local authority is responsible for providing PH’s support – South
Gloucestershire, Cornwall, or Wiltshire? This depends, under sections 24(1) and 24(5) of the National
Assistance Act 1948, on where PH was “ordinarily resident” immediately before he attained majority.
Wiltshire Council arranged PH’s foster placement under the Children Act 1989. Section 105(6)(c)
provides that, in determining a child’s ordinary residence for the purposes of the 1989 Act, there shall
be disregarded any period in which the child lives in any place while he is being provided with
accommodation by or on behalf of the local authority. At the time PH turned 18, the National Assistance
Act 1948 section 21 obliged local authorities to arrange accommodation for people over eighteen with
disabilities who need care and attention not otherwise available to them (the application of the 1948 Act
has since been restricted to Wales). By section 24(5), a person provided with accommodation under the
1948 Act is deemed to continue to be ordinarily resident in the area in which he was ordinarily resident
immediately before that accommodation was provided for him. Section 105(6)(c) and section 24(5) have
been referred to as “deeming” or “disregard” provisions.
In August 2011, the three local authorities jointly referred the question of PH’s ordinary residence to the
appellant Secretary of State for determination, under section 32(3) of the 1948 Act. The Secretary of
State decided that Cornwall Council was responsible. He followed his own guidance on determining
ordinary residence, which draw on two principal authorities: R v Barnet LBC, ex p Shah  AC 309,
and R v Waltham Forest, Ex p Vale (unreported, 11 February 1985). In Shah, the House of Lords held that
“ordinary residence” connotes an abode voluntarily adopted for settled purposes. In Vale the High Court
held that an adult woman whose disabilities meant she was incapable of choosing where to live had her
ordinary residence with her parents, because that was her “base”. The Secretary of State applied this
approach, which was challenged in this appeal.
Cornwall Council judicially reviewed the Secretary of State’s decision. The High Court dismissed its
challenge. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that PH’s place of ordinary residence as at his
eighteenth birthday was South Gloucestershire, and further that the deeming provisions did not apply
to PH since each applied only for the purposes of their own Act.
The Supreme Court allows the appeals by a majority of 4-1, and determines PH’s ordinary residence at
the relevant time to be Wiltshire. Lord Carnwath gives a judgment with which Lady Hale, Lord Hughes
and Lord Toulson agree. Lord Wilson gives a dissenting judgment.
REASONS FOR THE JUDGMENT
Lord Carnwath considers that the Secretary of State’s reasons for selecting Cornwall, which started not
from assessment of the duration and quality of PH’s actual residence but from an attempt to ascertain
his “base” by reference to his family relationships, cannot be supported. There is no suggestion that
PH’s brief periods of staying with his parents at holiday times could amount to ordinary residence. 
Lord Carnwath further reasons that though attribution of responsibility to South Gloucestershire may
fit the language of the statute, it runs directly counter to the statute’s policy. The only connection with
that county was PH’s historic placement under a statute, the 1989 Act, which specifically excluded the
placement from consideration as ordinary residence for the purposes of the 1989 Act. The policy in both
the 1989 and 1948 Acts is that ordinary residence of a person provided with accommodation should not
be affected, for the purposes of an authority’s responsibilities, by the location of that person’s placement.
The purpose of the deeming provisions in both Acts is that an authority should not be able to export its
responsibility for providing accommodation by “exporting” the person who is in need of it. It would
be undesirable if, despite the similarity and purpose of these provisions, there is a hiatus in the legislation.
It could also have adverse consequences on local authorities’ willingness to receive children who need
specialist care from another local authority. [52-55]
Lord Carnwath notes that in construing section 24 of the 1948 Act, the statutory context is critical. The
relevant provisions in each Act have the same function, namely allocating fiscal and administrative
responsibility between local authorities.  PH was at the relevant time living somewhere he had been
placed by a local authority under the 1989 Act. It would be wrong to interpret section 24 of the 1948
Act so as to regard PH as having been ordinarily resident in South Gloucestershire by reason of a form
of residence whose legal characteristics are found in the 1989 Act. One of those characteristics is that
the foster placement did not affect his ordinary residence under the 1989 Act’s statutory scheme. [58-
59] It follows that PH’s placement in South Gloucestershire by Wiltshire is not to be regarded as
changing his ordinary residence. Until he turned eighteen, for fiscal and administrative purposes his
ordinary residence continued to be in Wiltshire, regardless of where they determined that he should live.
 Therefore the appeal is allowed and in the declaration of the Court of Appeal references to South
Gloucestershire are substituted for references to Wiltshire. 
Lord Wilson, dissenting, reasons that at the relevant date PH and his family had all moved away from
Wiltshire.  South Gloucestershire is the result that the law clearly compels on the established
meaning of “ordinary residence”, though public policy militates against it. [65-66, 68] Though he did
not adopt it voluntarily, PH was happy and settled there.  Parliament has not chosen to widen the
provisions in the 1948 Act so as to disregard an adult’s previous placement as a minor under the 1989
Act. The majority’s analysis that the “legal characteristics” of a minor’s residence under the 1989 Act
make it irrelevant to determining ordinary residence under section 24 of the 1948 Act makes the statutory disregards in section 105(6) of the 1989 Act and section 24(5) of the 1948 Act redundant. [70-71]
References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.
This summary is provided to assist in understanding the Court’s decision. It does not form part of the
reasons for the decision. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.
Judgments are public documents and are available at: http://supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/index.shtml
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