Lowe defends charges as vulnerable clients ‘pay to go to work’

Social Work boss Andrew Lowe has said controversial charges levied on users of day care services on November 1 will be reviewed by Scottish Borders Council in six months.

And he has apologised if any service users were not told of the charges or the additional support which was available depending on their circumstances.

Contacting them had been a “significant task”, claimed Mr Lowe.

He was responding to criticism in last week’s Southern from the father of a learning disabled man attending the Reiver Industries project in Tweedbank who had received a letter, informing him that new charges of £2 per day and £1 for transport were being imposed, while the price of a hot meal would rise to £3.20.

That service user is one of 134 people with learning disabilities using day services in the Borders. Other users affected by the charges are 52 people with mental health problems, 19 with physical disabilities and 336 elderly people.

New social work charges, including those levied on day service users, are expected to bring in around £140,000 to SBC over a full year.

The father reckoned the new and increased fees would cost his family £124 per month and expressed concern the charges would stop vulnerable people using the service.

His comments inspired two readers to contact TheSouthern website.

One, a parent with a daughter who also attends the Reiver project, claimed: “The centres were not informed about it and notices were sent to learning disabled people, some whom live on their own. They were terribly confused and upset, thinking they would not be able to go to their work places.

“At Reiver they do a job and earn money to help with the centre’s costs, so why should they pay to go to work? How dare the council charge people for being born with a disability? The way in which this has been implemented is a disgrace.”

Another reader, describing herself as “a concerned carer”, said she was under the impression Reiver was a productive centre which did contract work for local companies in the public and private sector and also provided a printing service.

“Why should they have to pay to go work?,” she asked. “Do the employees of SBC pay to go their work each day? I think not.”

Asked to respond, Mr Lowe said the council had used a number of media to consult and inform the public and service providers of the proposed changes to the revised charging policy.

“All service users were written to in advance of the proposed changes and it has been made clear that if people need additional support this will be available. This has, as you will appreciate, been a significant task and if some people were missed during this process we can only apologise.

“In relation to Reiver Industries, the council commissions some day opportunities for people with a learning disability and the service referred to by your readers is one of these commissioned services.

“The contract between SBC and the Brothers of Charity, who provide Reiver, details the service as training for work and work experience, not employment.

The Brothers of Charity, as the provider, chooses to remunerate service users on a daily basis for the ‘work’ completed, so giving the sense of ‘employment’. This, however, is not a part of the contract.

“It is recognised that for many service users, there is no doubt that the attendance at Reiver is felt to be one of going to work. The people attending Reiver no doubt welcome the ‘work experience’ and these opportunties for training are also offered in other day services.

“Presently there is no doubt the service provided here is a day service and, in line with the principle of equity, is therefore eligible for charging as with other social care and health day services.

“We welcome all comments from the family carers. The council is committed to reviewing the policy in six months and we will consider all comments made by family carers and other groups when considering any future changes.”