A long battle by eight families for financial help to look after their severely disabled adult children has received support on human rights grounds.

In a landmark decision, the Human Rights Review Tribunal has found in their favour after the Ministry of Health said family members were not eligible for caregivers' payments.

However, the Government said last night that it planned to appeal against the decision, which could open the floodgates to thousands of similar ACC-based claims.

The tribunal said the parents were discriminated against by the ministry because "they are not allowed to be paid for the services they provide to their child (or children) while anyone else providing the very same care to their child (or children) is able to be paid."

The tribunal rejects the ministry's claim that support given by family members to heavily dependent persons - particularly when they reach adolescence and adulthood - can be considered as " natural" support. Nor does it accept that the financial impact of paying family members currently excluded would be unsustainable.

"Our own intuitive view is that the impact is not likely to be great within the disability sector."

Last night, one of the parents, Jean Burnett, said she was "delighted" by the tribunal decision.

"But most of all we feel we have been listened to and the points we made have been picked up.

"It's OK when disabled people are children and going to school. But when they get older and you have costs ... you cannot be in two places at once - working and caring.

Mrs Burnett, aged 75, said it was unfortunate that one of the original plaintiffs died before the tribunal got to hear the case in September 2008. Two other plaintiffs are in their seventies.

"But over the last few years, we have had calls from people who are in similar situations and those are the people the decision is going to help.

"It means we have a choice that if you don't find the Ministry of Health facilities adequate, you can have funding to care for your own people by those who know them and how to deal with disability."

Yesterday, Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said the Government should begin payments immediately. She said the previous government had been poorly advised on the issue and regrettably accepted that advice.

But minister Tony Ryall says the decision has serious implications way beyond the disability sector and it will almost certainly be appealed.

The decision could open the floodgates to potentially thousands of claims for ACC short-term injuries where people leave hospital but still need care and a family member is willing to provide that for a payment.