Hendon wheelchair user demands Freedom Pass policy change as carer costs spiral

Pensioner Anthony Colton says it’s not fair he has to pay his carer’s travel costs despite having a Freedom Pass himself, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

The Northern Line and (inset) Anthony Colton
The Northern Line and (inset) Anthony Colton

A disabled pensioner is demanding a change to transport policies after he was left to pay up to £20 a day for his carer’s travel – despite being eligible for free fares himself.

Anthony Colton, 86, who uses a wheelchair and has a full-time live-in carer, was successful in applying for a disabled person’s Freedom Pass. However, the pass does not cover travel for carers, meaning Anthony must cover the cost which he said could set him back around one thousand pounds a year. 

Anthony, who lives in Hendon near Great North Way, can’t travel without his carer but, after raising the issue with Barnet Council and his local MPs, has been unable to find a resolution.

It comes after a lengthy process to obtain the pass in the first place, according to Anthony, as well as lodging complaints with the council over the condition of roads and pavements in his neighbourhood which make travelling in his wheelchair more difficult.

“The borough just don’t want to know about it,” Anthony said. “The trouble with Barnet Council is whenever you phone up, it’s always another department who deals with it.”

However, the council has clarified that the lack of free travel coverage for a companion is a London-wide policy and is not Barnet specific.

As part of Sadiq Khan’s re-election campaign in 2020, the mayor pledged to bring in a “companion travel pass” for carers – before backtracking on this several months later.

The Guardian reported the policy announcement during Khan’s run for a second term as mayor in January 2020, when the paper reported: “The pass would provide free travel for anyone accompanying a disabled person on all services including the tube, overground and buses.”

However, the proposed policy has not been enacted. The Mayor of London’s office was approached for comment but did not respond.

Speaking on the process to get his Freedom Pass, Anthony said it took four months, as he was initially refused on the grounds that he could walk “half-a-dozen paces” despite this causing “considerable pain”. 

He explained that part of his disability is that he has no cartilage in either knee, something he has dealt with for 20 years, and the council was aware of. However, Anthony was still asked to have a face-to-face consultation at a Barnet library six-to-seven miles away during the application process for his pass.

Anthony said: “I had the sense to phone up the assessor and after 30 seconds describing what my disabilities were, he said ‘I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t have a Freedom Pass’.”

Anthony has also struggled with parts of his wheelchair breaking off because of the condition of certain roads and pavements in his neighbourhood. “There’s one section of Hendon Lane that I’ve actually lost a couple of bits of my wheelchair along,” he said.  

When Anthony drove, he had issues with the council when his Blue Badge, which indicates a disabled driver, was stolen when his car was broken into. Despite reporting the incident and the stolen badge, the following day a traffic warden issued him a parking ticket for parking in a disabled spot.

“They could see at the time the glass was still on the floor and the window had not been repaired, that was the sort of attitude they took,” he said.

Anthony has suggested to the council it hire a disabled employee to work in the department for disabled persons to help understand the perspective of constituents who need to use their services.

Local MP Mike Freer, who represents Finchley and Golders Green, said he supports any move enabling carers to carry out their duties more easily but added: “There would need to be appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that any such scheme could not be abused, with clear guidelines on the definition of a carer to determine eligibility.

“Any lessons that could be taken from schemes in other parts of the country would, undoubtedly, be useful in this regard.”

Update (6th December):

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has been told that Anthony’s penalty charge was waived by the council following his complaint, while no pavement defects have been identified on the roads specified.

Alan Schneiderman, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “We take the care of our most vulnerable residents very seriously and will look to work with the individual on the issues he has raised.”

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