A user-led advice service that has lost its council funding fears similar cuts could have serious financial consequences for disabled people in other parts of the country.
Calderdale DART (Disabled Advice Resource Team) has provided information to disabled people for nearly three decades, but its long-term future is now in “serious doubt” after its local authority withdrew its funding.
Calderdale Council in west Yorkshire will provide funding for a “one size fits all” general advice and information service, run by Calderdale Citizens Advice Bureau, rather than continuing to fund specialist advisers such as Calderdale DART.
But Tony Kay, DART’s manager, said: “This just isn’t going to work. Disabled people are going to suffer financially because they are not going to get the advice that they need.”
DART has received widespread support from disabled people, with one calling the council’s funding decision “downright disgusting and disgraceful” and another a “travesty”, while praising DART’s “first class” and “invaluable” service.
Kay pointed to the need for specialist advice on a raft of changes to disability benefits that will soon be introduced through the government’s Welfare Reform Act, including the new personal independence payment that will replace working-age disability living allowance.
DART, which is based in Halifax, this week heard that it had secured a transitional council grant while it seeks alternative long-term funding over the next 18 months.
But Kay warned that other councils could copy Calderdale’s move in a bid to cut costs, and added: “If other councils follow the route that Calderdale Council has gone down, inevitably it is going to exclude a lot of small, specialist organisations.”
Kay has been involved with DART for almost its entire 28 years, and said it was originally set up because of the need for specialist advice services.
He said the transitional grant was “very good news”, but added: “What still appears to be clear to us is that the council no longer believes it has the responsibility to provide funding for a specialist disability advice service and that it wants to pass on this responsibility to other funders.”
In 2010-11, DART helped nearly 1,200 people and dealt with more than 7,000 problems.
Calderdale Council’s cabinet member for communities, Cllr Pauline Nash, said the council was “confident that specialist advice for people with disabilities and their carers can be provided through the Citizens Advice Bureau”.
She said: “Within the contract with CAB, we have a number of agreed specific targets to ensure that people with disabilities and their carers have access to the best advice available.
“However, we recognise the valuable work that DART has been doing and have provided £74,000 transitional funding over 18 months to give DART the time and the opportunity to look at ways in which it can either provide advice services in a different way or seek alternative funding.”
Any organisations or individuals who can help with funding or support should visit the Calderdale DART website.
15 March 2012