Magherafelt leading the way in campaign for carers travel allowance in NI

Carers travel allowance call
Carers travel allowance call

People with disabilities in Mid Ulster and across Northern Ireland are being disadvantaged by a lack of travel allowances for their carers.

That is the claim from the Magherafelt Advice Centre, who have contacted local politicians in a effort to seek change at Stormont.

Currently in Scotland and some parts of England and Wales, carers are entitled to free travel or concessionary rates when accompanying a family member or friend with a disability.

But in Northern Ireland, they are forced to pay the full ticket price.

James McCann from the Magherafelt Advice Centre said he was shocked, when his office received an enquiry about a carer of a dementia patient.

“This was the first time that this issue has been raised and when I looked into this, I realised that Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK, where no allowance is made for those caring for people with disabilities,” he said.

“I think it is a very significant issue especially in a rural area like Mid Ulster, where for some people, public transport is the only option available for people to get around, whether it is for shopping, visiting family and friends, or health appointments.

“This can be a sizeable expenditure for some people, and there could be cases where a person with a disability, may not be able to take public transport, because the carer cannot afford the travel.

James added: “In my view, this is almost verging on discrimination, especially when there are concessions available in many other parts of the UK.”

Mr McCann has contacted local assembly members, and says he has been heartened by their response.

UUP MLA Sandra Overend has revealed that she has written to the DRD minister Danny Kennedy and said she plans to write to the Department of Health to seek a way forward.

Sinn Fein MLA Ian Milne said his party colleagues would be raising the matter at the DRD committee.

“This is surely a big issue for a lot families looking after people with dementia, blindness or other disabilities,” said Mr Milne.

“It is something which affects people from all walks of life, and if there is anything that can be done to help carers, then we must take a serious look at this.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Regional Development [DRD] said the introduction of free travel for carers during a previous review of the Concessionary Fares Scheme in 2007. was rejected by the Executive in favour of extending free travel to persons aged 60 to 64.

“The current budget provided by the Executive does not enable the Minister to consider an extension of the Scheme at this time. Should he secure an increase in the concessionary fares budget in the future, Minister Kennedy would be happy to reconsider this matter,” said the spokesperson.

“Whilst the Concessionary Fares Scheme is not able to help with carer/companion travel passes at present, there are other forms of financial support which may be available. For example, that Direct payments can be made by local Health and Social Services Trusts to help with the costs of services that carers are assessed as needing to support them in their caring role.

“Also, depending on their age, persons requiring assistance with travel may be eligible to receive help with the extra transport and travel costs that they face in paying for the fares of a carer via the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.”