Friday, 17 September 2021

Charities rage at Blue Badge snub

ANOTHER charity which transports disabled people has been refused a blue badge for one its minibuses.

The FISH Volunteer Centre in Sonning Common says it is “devastated” by the decision, which means the use of its new vehicle will be limited.

The snub comes after the Henley and District Handibus was refused a blue badge for its new £60,000 minibus, which arrives this week.

Both charities have appealed against the decision by Oxfordshire County Council.

In its letters of refusal, the council said that from the information included on their application forms, it was clear the charities provided transport but they did not appear to provide any care.

But the charities say that they do help elderly and disabled people but the form didn’t ask about the level of care they provide.

Fred Nickson, chairman of the FISH Volunteer Centre, said: “It was refused on the basis that we don’t do any caring but there was nothing about caring on the form.

“We are absolutely appalled. How dare they? They have no idea about what we do. We have some really dedicated, unpaid volunteers caring for the disabled and infirm.Our committee is devastated because it is putting the wellbeing of our clients at risk because they will never be able to get out and about. We have got clients who use the bus three times a week.

“We have been using blue badges for many years and I can’t begin to understand why they have changed the criteria. Who do they think is going to care for these people if we don’t?”

In February, the centre bought a new £46,000 bus, which was customised with an extra-low step and an electro-hydraulic lift system for disabled people. Mr Nickson said: “We take people to supermarkets. For some people, going to the Tesco in Henley is the highlight of their week.

“Blue badges enable us to use disabled parking spaces so they are so important to us. If we don’t have blue badges it will dramatically affect us.

“We cover a very large catchment area of Sonning Common and the surrounding villages and this will affect a lot of people.”

The charity has between 35 and 40 volunteers who use their own cars to take clients to medical appointments and Mr Nickson said the charity was worried that blue badge applications for these cars would be refused as well.

He said: “We also do about 900 trips a year to hospitals, surgeries and dentists and if we can’t park in disabled bays then we are in real trouble.”

Phil Perry, chairman of the Henley Handibus, said: “This means the bus will not be able to stop anywhere with double yellow lines outside, such as the Henley Over-60s Club.

“We load wheelchairs, walking aids, all sorts of things. It’s essential that we’re able to pick up and drop off people where double yellow lines exist.”

Mr Perry said he had appealed and received an automatic reply stating that he would receive a response within five days but he has still not heard anything almost three weeks later.

“Our application was sent in good time and so was the appeal,” he said. “The appeal provided additional information and stated that we were shortly to take delivery of our new bus and that the matter was urgent.

“On the original application the word ‘care’ was not mentioned. If you’re going to refuse people on something you should have at least asked them in the first place.

“When a disabled person is accepted on to our bus and until they safely reach their destination, they are in our care.”

The charity has always been granted a blue badge in the past and Mr Perry stressed it had never abused this privilege. “If we aren’t worthy of it, then who the hell is?” he added.

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents Henley on the county council, is supporting the charities.

He said: “This is a valuable service to the community whichever way you look at it and I want to see the county reversing its decision.”

The council has said it is reviewing the Handibus decision.

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