The Autism Bill passed its final stage in the House of Lords yesterday to become England's first ever disability-specific law.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) heralded the new law as 'groundbreaking' and said health and social care services could now face legal action if they failed to provide support for people with the condition, which affects over half a million people in the UK.
The Autism Bill started out as a Private Members' Bill drafted by the NAS on behalf of a coalition of autism charities and sponsored by Cheryl Gillan MP. It has had support from all parties.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: "Thousands of adults with autism told us they were experiencing serious mental health difficulties due to a lack of support. After a year of lobbying, this is the watershed moment they have been waiting for - this law could literally transform lives. It will add serious weight to the forthcoming adult autism strategy so now we'll be keeping the pressure up on Government to make sure they get it right and deliver lasting change for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition."
The bill, which will now receive Royal Assent, will officially become the Autism Act and the Government's forthcoming adult autism strategy will be legally enforceable. New responsibilities the NHS and local authorities will be expected to fulfil will include providing diagnostic services for adults with autism and better training for health and social care staff.
Ms Gillan said: "I'd like to thank everyone for their support. It is extremely rare that a Private Members' Bill goes on to become law, so this is a triumph for people with autism and their families. It's a real testament to the overwhelming level of parliamentary support for this chronically excluded group. I hope it will make the crucial difference in their lives that people with autism need and deserve."