Latest Hurdle in Renewing Freedom Pass.

In the post I received a letter from my local concessionary travel team which left me feeling stunned and concerned for other people who also happens to be deaf, living in my local borough. I knew not all would be claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or be in receipt of the Higher Rate  Mobility Component.

Me being me, I set out to challenge the Local Authority over concerns they raised within me in said letter by sending them an email which I can only hope I made it clear enough that one could not send out a letter like this without giving those who are eligible any other alternatives to provide proof they are entitled as not everyone claims DLA or gets the higher rate. If people / councils are going to manipulate residents into feeling worry and despair then surely I am going to pull them up on that!!

“Dear Sir / Madam,

Thank you very much for your letter advising me to renew my freedom travel pass. There are issues within the letter which concerns me because not every deaf person gets the Higher Rate Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance – surely our deafness which is covered by the eligibility rules should be enough?

I recall in the past Hounslow Borough requesting our audiograms of which I am sure many were obliged to produce however being told I was not deaf on my audiogram was a farce and I had to defend myself by correcting them that if they were going to ask for audiograms as proof of our deafness they should be employing an audiologist who is qualified to read audiograms and then able to determine who is deaf enough or not. I have been profoundly deaf since birth and this felt like an insult to me. I was then allowed to renew my travel pass but it was not without any ill feelings.

The subsequent new Freedom Pass renewal system went very smoothly and was a pleasure however this time around; I am left stunned at the lack of knowledge in the differences between disabilities and our needs. You are requesting proof of mobility of which some may not choose to claim or do not have the higher rate of. I understand that this rate gets automatic renewal but it is very unfair to ask this of those who are eligible already by being deaf – covered by the rules for the Freedom Pass by the Transport of London and the “Guidance to Local Authorities on assessing eligibility of disabled people in England.” I attach photos of the categories and some points from the Guidance for your information.

rules

Guidance to Local Authority PDF.

Freedom Pass website.

22 For applicants outside the above categories, the Department recommends that  the next most robust means of assessment is likely to be via local authority lists of  registered disabled people where these are relevant. This is covered in more detail below  for people who are blind or partially sighted, or profoundly or severely deaf. Where a  person is registered with an authority outside their current area of residence, the local  authority may wish to consider the desirability of contacting that authority as against other  means of assessing eligibility.

39 There is no statutory registration system for deaf people. However, many will be registered on a voluntary basis with their local authority social services department. The register is open to people who have varying degrees of hearing loss, so in checking the register a local authority is advised to check that the applicant is profoundly or severely deaf before issuing a national concession bus pass.

Please could you now explain to me, why we are being expected to provide proof of our income/benefit when it has nothing to do with our eligibility for a freedom pass when we are already eligible and entitled to one due to our deafness? It is becoming even more apparent to me just how much knowledge staff has in terms of the differences in disabilities and the various needs / abilities of each resident in the borough. One cannot send a template letter to all those categorized, claiming DLA when they may have other disabilities that decrees them eligible otherwise.

My records should show evidence of the audiograms I provided you with in the past and I would have thought this was more than enough proof of our disability which we happen to have. To see other people like myself be put through this ordeal is very unfair on them and because of this, I will be taking this up with certain charities that advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing, local mobility and disability teams as well as Transport for London as it also concerns them it being their concessionary passes of which we fulfil their criteria that one could mistake you for overlooking.

I would be more than willing to come in for an assessment but only if you are able to reassure me there is a qualified audiologist present – who can sign. Or as the guidelines suggest, you could contact my local audiology department for the necessary proof.

29 Where, as a last resort, it is necessary to use a GP, the contact should be made  direct by the authority, having secured the applicant’s agreement, and the GP should only be asked for answers to factual questions. They should not be asked for an opinion on whether someone meets the criteria.

I have asked for another copy of my awards letter as requested which should not be any of the concessionary team’s business so will also be taking this up with my local MP and councillor as our deafness and audiograms in the past should be more than enough evidence to allow us to continue being in receipt of Freedom Passes. The rules and eligibility guidelines is there in black and white which works out for the best all round to protect everyone in their best interests.

I look forwards to “hearing” (pardon the pun!) from you.

Regards,

Sara Jae.”

 

(Full name not disclosed on here for privacy reasons)

 

Updated on 12/11/2014

My second email:

Dear Sir / Madam,

Last week I emailed the below (forwarded) message to some of the recipients named above and received no response except from Hounslow’s Advocacy team. I am appalled at the inefficiency of the customer service given by the civil service because they are paid to do their jobs, not to ignore residents and to actually know the guidelines for Travel Passes without being told them from eligible users.

I had to phone the concessionary Travel team the other day who instructed me to obtain a letter from my GP when it is clear in the Guidelines that this should only be done as a last resort and if this info is required, the authority concerned are the ones who are supposed to contact the GP’s. My GP is currently writing up her letter to confirm my deafness however we should not be required to provide new evidence every x number of years in case we miraculously become hearing because this is a life long disability. I understand this is one way to weed out the fraudsters but this is very troublesome for those who are genuine and those who do not need to be exposed to template letters regarding mobility and rates of the DLA because it’s not applicable to them when they are eligible otherwise.

29 Where, as a last resort, it is necessary to use a GP, the contact should be made

direct by the authority, having secured the applicant’s agreement, and the GP should only

be asked for answers to factual questions. They should not be asked for an opinion on

whether someone meets the criteria.

I will email my GP’s letter to the concessionary travel team once I receive it for their records and I trust this will be good enough as reassured by the admin staff who answered my call which was relayed via my husband. But what about everyone else who has had to endure signs of ignorance from those who instructed their office workers to carry out such an inefficient job yet this is not their fault when they are only being told what to do?

One of my friends who does not claim DLA and is deaf, received the exact same letter as I did asking for proof of the higher rate of mobility – this confirmed to us this was a template letter being sent out to everyone concerned. Hence showing the extent of knowledge regarding our various communication needs and abilities from those not in the know when they should be – after all, its their job which they are being paid to do? Being in the know would make life so much easier all around – nothing about us, without us.

Please, could someone this time take a moment to respond and reassure me they are looking into the inefficiency of it all as it affects both ourselves and yourselves.

Thank you ever so, for your time and patience,

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

 

 

Updated 13/11/2014

A response from one of my councillors:

“I am sorry that you got so little response to your letter, but many Councillors will have thought that they have little chance of affecting the outcome, and cannot see what they can usefully do. We do not have any contact with the staff who make these decisions, and no input into how they devise their procedures. If I could see a way of making them simplify what require of you I would do it, but I am sure that any intervention from me would be ignored.

You make very good points about the bureaucracy surrounding disability making it so much worse. I have a family member whose struggles to get the flu jab would almost fill a book. No one wanted to take responsibility for letting him have an egg based injection although he has had them for years without any reaction. I do bear such things in mind when we make changes to services at LBH, and try to ensure that common sense prevails.

I hope Hounslow’s Advocacy team are able to help you to move things forward, and I am sorry that I cannot do anything to assist.

Regards,”

 

to which I replied with;

“Dear Sir / Madam,
Thank you very much to Councillor XXXX XXXXX for responding – it was nice that someone finally took the time to do so however it left me feeling quite stranded because I thought that was what Councillors were for? I was advised that they CAN affect the outcome. The guidelines for the councils are quite clear as you have been elected to represent us and do our bidding – in my case, the councillors on the Chiswick Riverside / Turnham Green ward. The council staff work for the councillors, of whom are obliged to follow the laid down guidelines.
You should be contacting the councillor with the disability portfolio and subsequently go to the staff if the rules / guidelines are not being obeyed or fulfilled which is very obvious in this instance with the issues I have presented to you.
It is already hard enough for deaf people to reach the correct contacts because we cannot scream down the phone demanding to be put through to those in a higher position – it’s a much slower, longer, and more stressful process trying to find the right people to speak to. Yet most will not take the time to respond to an email and brush it under the rug. As I have experienced bar two people so far.
Please do not make us feel like we are not your responsibility and that we should find someone else to complain to – we need to be listened to by you because we are feeling the side effects of the inefficiency within the council’s structure, that you work for. It is crystal clear no one knows the guidelines, or has the knowledge regarding different disabilities and needs to carry out a more successful system for it to work with minimal stress and imposition on others.
All those who happen to be disabled/ deaf/ without speech/ blind and other eligible statuses should not have to feel aggrieved by the “bureaucracy surrounding disability making it so much worse.” We should not have to provide new evidence every x years in case someone has grown legs or become hearing again. when the exhausted avenues of evidence we have provided in the past should be more than satisfactory. We have a lifelong disability that people know nothing about and it is those people who dictate our lives according to their limited knowledge of our disabilities and various needs.
I find it extremely hard to explain how frustrated I am at the barriers I am encountering and seeing my family and friends experiencing the very same barriers. I am not doing this for myself but for all the residents in this borough who have fallen victim to a system which is extremely flawed especially for those who have been eligible from day one.
When there is a will, there is a way – please, help your residents who happen to be disabled to have a fairer experience which is justified based on our various disabilities and needs? One cannot send out a template letter (just because it is easier to do so) without giving those who are eligible any other alternatives to provide proof they are entitled as not everyone claims DLA or gets the higher rate for mobility as this is not applicable to all.
Regards,
Sara.”

To be concluded….

 

Update: I had heard nothing at all since my last email to the Team which enclosed a copy of my audiogram and a letter confirming my deafness and the level it was at (and always had been! and always will be!) so I relatively soon after paid a visit to my local Town Hall where the receptionist made a call to the Concessionary Travel team on my behalf. She finally had some good news for me – my Travel Pass would be renewed and will arrive in the post early in the new year, 2015.

We will always have to fight for our rights, even though we are entitled.

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