There was positive news for the community at Botton this week after it was confirmed that shared living arrangements between residents and co-workers have been guaranteed for the immediate future.
This development comes as a result of an agreement reached at the High Court between campaigners from Botton and Camphill Village Trust (CVT), the charity that operates the village.
For the last 60 years, learning disabled residents in Botton have shared their homes with volunteer co-workers and their families in a unique shared-living arrangement.
CVT are seeking to implement changes to the way the village operates and make the volunteers paid employees, a move that will force them to live seperately from the residents.
Wednesday’s agreement was reached after co-workers at Botton acquiesced to demands from CVT to allow the trust to class them as temporary employees.
CVT claim that this is necessary in order to satisfy Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ concerns over the non-payment of taxes by volunteer workers, who receive only expenses as opposed to wages.
A spokesperson for campaign group Action for Botton told the Whitby Gazette that although the co-workers were reluctant to accept the change, they agreed to do so temporarily to ensure that the villagers’ way of life is preserved for the duration of the ongoing legal dispute before the High Court.: “
Eddie Thornton, a co-worker at Botton, added: “In order to ensure both that CVT’s eviction programme was halted and that the learning disabled villagers could continue to live peacefully with their existing families, co-workers had to make some concessions.
“These included a temporary agreement to be paid for their work, although no co-worker has or will sign an employment contract.
“It is of note that both the Director General of HMRC and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have publically stated that it is ‘the engagers choice regarding the employment issue’.
“We have said all along that HMRC do not require CVT to make co-workers employees, this is entirely their option not a requirement.”
Neil Davidson, chairman of Action for Botton, went on to say that the campaign group’s aim had always been to ensure that the learning disabled residents should not be forcibly segregated from their existing co-worker families as “these plans were obviously causing them great distress.”
An undertaking between the parties had previously been agreed at an earlier hearing on March 19, and this more comprehensive agreement will now be in place while outstanding legal matters are resolved at the High Court.
Responding to Wednesday’s proceedings, Huw John chief executive of CVT, said that he was pleased an agreement had finally been reached.
“This means that those Botton Village co-workers opposed to change have the option to be treated as employees of the charity until the case is heard in full, which may be some months away,” he added.
“The option of temporary employment was offered several months ago by the charity. The agreement means that co-workers can continue to live with the people we support and receive a salary equivalent to other social care workers.
“For the charity, it means that we will have the confidence that we are complying with our regulatory duties and providing the standard of care at Botton that people expect from us.”
Wednesday’s agreement includes five of the co-workers from the village. Mr John added that he is hopeful that the remaining co-workers will also sign up to this negotiated agreement to “help reduce the tension being experienced by those we support within Botton Village.”
He continued: “The positive outcome in court follows the decision yesterday of co-workers in another Camphill Village Trust community, the Grange in Gloucester, to become employees.
“This means that Botton Village is the only remaining community run by the charity where some co-workers have yet to adopt permanent employment status.”
A separate legal hearing in the Queen’s Bench Division between three learning disabled residents and Camphill Village Trust over alleged breaches of human rights is set to start on April 15 and is unaffected by Wednesday’s agreement.
Last week, the Administrative Court in London refused permission to three Botton residents to proceed with a Judicial Review of the actions of CVT.
The trio are claiming that the changes being made to care worker arrangements breached their human rights.
Helen Tucker of Anthony Collins Solicitors, acting on behalf of the trust, said:
“As a charity, CVT seeks to avoid legal disputes where possible. In this instance, the charity trustees had no option but to respond urgently to the claim brought against them.”
“This [decision] came as a relief to our client and a vindication of the work being done by the charity’s staff and trustees.”
Despite the refusal of the Honourable Mr Justice Jeremy Baker to award Judicial Review, Action for Botton were pleased that the judge did recognise that learning disabled residents’ rights have been breached.
A spokesperson said: “In the opening paragraph of the ruling the court expressly stated ‘it is unarguable that the claimants’ article 8 rights are breached by the defendants’ decision to fulfil the duty by proposed alteration’.”
Action for Botton believe that the interim relief granted is more extensive than that of the previous injunction of March 13, as it now covers co-workers as well as the three villagers.
They were also keen to stress that although Judicial Review was denied, the case has not been dismissed.
“The case is going ahead and is now scheduled for April 15 before the Queens Bench at the High Court - it has not been dismissed,” the spokesperson continued.
“Clearly the court would not have extended and strengthened the previous temporary injunction had it dismissed the case, as this injunction runs until the case is heard.”