Friday, 12 November 2010

Stealth Cuts – Other ways we are being hurt – Part 1

The Government Spending Review has received plenty of press attention, and there have been announcements of cuts and changes to national benefits, such as caps on housing benefit, and removal of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) mobility component for people living in residential homes. But there are yet more blows to follow as councils tighten their belts – some of which have already started.

For example, although some people are automatically entitled to a Blue Badge or a travel pass (e.g. if they receive the higher rate of DLA mobility component), many other people who have a need but can’t tick a box will receive these at the council’s discretion. However, councils are beginning to tighten the criteria and there is no statutory right of appeal, meaning that many people could find they no longer qualify when they come to renew these essential transport benefits, and can do nothing about it.

In London, where public transport is complex, there is an additional concession – the Taxicard. This enables the holder to a reduced fare in certain black taxis, making it easier to get about if you are unable to access the buses or tubes – and until now different boroughs have implemented the scheme in different ways, but this is due to be harmonised with everyone being entitled to 104 trips a year. That’s equivalent to going out and back once a week, but is it realistic to expect someone with mobility impairments to undertake all their shopping and chores for the week in a single trip? Worse, I hear rumours that Taxicard may soon be closed to new applicants – for good. This is an essential service for many Londoners who need to get around, but can’t afford to pay the full cost of taxis. If you think you may qualify, I can only encourage you to apply as soon as possible, before any changes come into force.

Joined up thinking has gone out of the window. Councils used to offer extra taxicard trips in certain circumstances, but now anything which requires discretionary funding has been withdrawn. A case in point is ‘Andy’, a person with learning difficulties, who entirely relied on their taxicard to get about. Sure, they could physically get on the bus, but wouldn’t know where to go once on board, or even which bus to catch. They soon used up their taxicard allowance for a year but instead of being given additional trips to accommodate their access needs, this year they were told “you have a bus pass, you have to use that instead”. The last I heard, what should have been a simple bus ride turned into a long and confused expedition... Surely in this case it makes sense to give them extra taxi allowances rather than issue a bus pass?

Also in London, I’m told that the Borough of Barking has withdrawn their community transport scheme, which used to bring disabled people to meetings and take them shopping.

Where will the axe fall next? It could be your council.


  1. 104 trips a year will be an increase in what I get now: 54.

    I suspect I'd have gotten more if I hadn't used my driving licence as proof of address when applying. *doh*

  2. Probably not related, but when I phoned to book my taxi to the hospital on Thursday morning I was told that a 'block' had been put on my card and I had no other choice than to give them my credit card details instead and pay £50 for the round trip to the hospital.

    After several calls later that day, I found that a 'mistake' had been made (probably by Lambeth Council who are pretty hopeless) and if Taxicard post me a form to sign and return, then my account should be unblocked by next week. I can't get my £50 back though! :(

    The helpful woman who answered the phone in the Taxicard office was very sympathetic and apologetic, and somehow I got the impression that I wasn't the only person this has happened to. Thank goodness comcab (the provider) also accept American Express or I wouldn't have been able to get to the hospital.

  3. Ah, that would do it. However I use mine to get to and from my nearest accessible underground station (which is outside my borough as NONE of the tube stations in my borough are step-free) and driving there and back isn't viable for various reasons (parking for hours, might be in too much pain to drive home, etc.)

    And there are other reasons you might need to go by taxi instead of driving - needing a hand with unloading shopping, for example, or not being able to park close enough to your destination so needing to be dropped off outside.

    I hope you get bumped up to 104, then!

    That might be a positive change for you, but there are others on the way - axing double swipes, and probably increasing the £1.50 charge we pay. Personally I think closing it to new applicants is terrible - it's a fantastic scheme, what will other people use if they can't sign up? Dial-a-ride hardly cuts it!

  4. I don't really see how stopping double swipes saves money (aside from the fact that it makes the card unusable for many people). What difference does it make whether I go to the hospital 26 times (two swipes each way) or go on 104 pointless short journeys?

    Getting access to medical treatment is so expensive for me. The full cost of a trip to hospital is around £50; with two double swipes I tend to pay £10-£15; without double swipes I suppose it will be about £30 each time. If they cut DLA or change it so I don't get mine renewed then I don't know how I'll pay for this. Good thing I don't have a life or go anywhere other than to hospital!

  5. What irks me most is the suggestion that £20 application fee for a blue badge should be increased. That's £20 to APPLY, not to get one, if you are turned down you still pay. If you are automatically entitled and you don't need to go through a complex process you still pay. Now the excuse for this is that you save more on parking fees than the £20 fee. Not so my situation, I want to park at the supermarket where it's FREE. So all the ABs can park for nothing and I have to pay £20 for a permit, which they are thinking about increasing to £40 in Scotland. Equality???

    You may have a small amount of benefit money, but we want it all back in fees and charges.

  6. On the bright side, I can't lose my accessible transport service.

    On the down side, that's because it was axed several years ago. There is now a "taxi tokens" scheme. If a pensioner, or a person on DLA HRM, relinquishes their bus pass (on the basis of not being able to use the bus) then they may claim £25 per year of "taxi tokens". However to get the tokens, a person must travel to the council offices (from my house, about £7 taxi fare each way) and then pay a £5 registration fee, so the net benefit is £6. Doesn't seem worth it.

  7. If you are on qualifying benefits or have a HC2 or HC3 certificate you should be able to claim back some or all of your travel expenses for hospital visits back.