Council ‘alarming’ disabled people over charges

    A council has been accused of alarming disabled people by sending out confusing consultation letters over proposed changes to its adult care charging system.

    Walsall Council has written to 10,000 service users detailing proposals to move to a benefits-based charging system whereby they would contribute 50% of their disability living allowance or attendance allowance to pay for community-based care.

    But the letter fails to mention the fact that people on the lowest incomes would pay less.

    Rosanna Trudgian, policy officer at Mencap, raised concerns that this omission could worry service users unnecessarily.

    “Walsall Council needs to make it extremely clear how its proposals affect service users,” she said. “We know at a local level that people are concerned about the services that they will get.”

    Specifically, the letter omits the fact that charges will be capped so people’s disposable incomes do not fall below the level of income support plus 25%, in line with government guidance. This provision is specified on the council’s website.

    “Disabled people will be rightly worried when they receive this letter,” said Neil Coyle, chair of the charities group Coalition on Charging, which campaigns against rises in council care fees.

    Even though the council has asked for service users to contribute to a consultation, Coyle said the tone of the letter appeared to suggest that the changes were a fait accompli.

    “The letter is not asking views but is setting out the council’s course of action,” he said.

    However, Paul Davies, Walsall’s executive director for social care and inclusion, said the letter was intended to simplify the issue.

    “We took the deliberate decision not to make the letters any more complicated than they need be so as not to confuse customers,” he said. The detail could then be discussed at the publicised public meetings or via individual telephone calls and visits.

    “The current system is unfair, which is one of the key reasons for the proposed changes, but – to be clear – we are not ‘removing’ disability benefits.”

    He added that the charges would allow the council to further invest in adult social care.

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