Fifty one disabled Freedom Pass holders in Barnet have submitted claims and received compensation totalling £6,952.12 following Conservative-run Barnet council's wrongful cancellation of hundreds of Passes earlier this year.
A report discussed at last week's Policy & Resources committee (1 Sep) following a review of the 2015 Pass renewal process showed that "residents were not informed that their eligibility would be retrospectively checked when their passes were originally issued in 2015. They were also not informed, at the point of issue, that their passes could be deactivated if they did not meet the eligibility criteria. The Council recognises that the retrospective checking process resulted in 230 Disabled Persons' Freedom Passes being withdrawn from residents in Barnet without appropriate guidance being provided. This situation understandably caused distress to a number of Freedom Pass holders for which the Council has apologised unreservedly."
The report goes on to say that "a letter of apology and an offer of compensation was made to all pass holders that may have incurred a financial loss due to the deactivation of their pass."
The Council's 2015 retrospective renewals process introduced new assessment criteria against which pass holders' eligibility was checked. This included that residents with autism and mental health conditions had to be registered with the Dennis Scott mental health unit. Unfortunately, pass holders were not told about these new criteria, and many, including those with lifelong conditions like autism, did not know they had to be registered with the unit and therefore had their pass cancelled despite the fact that they were still eligible under the statutory definitions. Labour councillors argued these new assessment criteria were too narrow and excluded those with autism who would not be accepted at the Dennis Scott unit which deals with mental health only, and also those with recurring mental health conditions who were not in crisis.
The Council's review of the flawed process proposes that the assessment criteria are widened to ensure that eligible residents are not excluded in future. The proposals also incorporate suggestions made by Labour councillors to improve the process further including that:
- The eligibility criteria for disabled persons' Freedom Passes must be agreed by the P&R committee and be subject to consultation, including in Easy Read. This consultation must also include Adult & Community Services.
- The new 0-25 team should ensure service users are enabled to have choices and independence (as required by the Care Act), and that they are not disadvantaged when turning 18 by losing the ability to travel freely if it restricts their ability to study, work and socialise.
- The eligibility criteria for Passes should comply with the Care Act, including the requirement to enable choice and independence.
- Only 20% of Adults with long term needs have a Care Plan therefore LB Barnet should not use 'known to Adult Services' as a local criteria for granting of Freedom Passes.
- If an assessment decides someone is no longer entitled to a pass they need to be assessed against their ability to have a driving licence before a final decision is made.
- If a Pass is to be removed there must be a right of appeal - and the status quo must be observed until the end of the appeal process.
Labour councillors continue to call for the Assisted Travel service to be brought back in-house from Capita CSG.
The Council will consult on the new proposals from 12 September and report the consultation responses back to Policy & Resources in December for a final decision.
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: "This flawed, and probably unlawful, process has caused terrible distress to some very vulnerable people - in many cases Freedom Passes were taken away without informing pass holders, and without assessing them or providing them with the criteria against which they were deemed ineligible or giving them an opportunity to appeal.
"The introduction of restrictive new assessment criteria, not previously used by London Councils when they were doing the assessments, excluded a whole set of eligible residents with lifelong conditions like autism, and all of this was done with very little oversight by the Leader of the Council and the Chair of the Adults & Safeguarding committee who knew about the plans to undertake a renewals process and carry out retrospective checks.
"Going forward, the proposed wider assessment criteria is a step in the right direction, but people with autism are still categorised under 'mental health' in government guidance and this needs to be looked at nationally to ensure those with lifelong conditions like autism and those with mental health conditions are treated appropriately.
"In addition, some people who currently have a pass could still lose out under the new assessment criteria which are not exhaustive, and therefore we believe the Council should introduce a local discretionary pass for those people in need who may not be able to evidence their need in the way the Council has set out."
1. The P&R report on disabled persons' Freedom Passes can be found here: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=692&MId=8729&Ver=4
For more information contact Cllr Barry Rawlings: firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568