Monday, September 11, 2006

Rising fees for the visually impaired

A ROYSTON charity has slammed North Herts College for a whopping increase in class fees for blind students.

As reporterd in last week's Hertfordshire on Sunday, the courses - teaching braille as well as vital life skills such as cooking and sewing - have risen from a flat rate fee of £32 per year to £20 per course, per term.

With many visually-impaired residents retired or unable to work, many take sev eral courses per term, so they will have to find more than £100 to continue their stud ies. John Blundell, chairman of the Frank Letts Blind Fellowship of Royston, said: "Politicians are investing in young people and their vocational courses and the costs are being passed on to other members of society.

"Visually disabled people rely on these courses for basic life skills and I think it is a moral outrage that they are being cashed in on.

"I think at a time people are campaign ing so hard over car parking charges there should be more of an outcry over this." Cllr Bill Prime, who raised large sums of money for the fellowship when he was mayor, said: "The vast majority of people who are blind or visually impaired are pen sioners.
"How they are expected to find this kind of money? It's absolutely outrageous."

North Herts College said the increased charges were the result of Government spending cuts and fees had increased across the board.

"For 2006-7 we will need to rely on adult community learning funding from Hertfordshire County Council and, in line with Government and Learning Skills Council recommendations, adult learners will be expected to contribute to fees," said a spokesman.

"The college operates a concessions policy for learners who need financial sup port. "Fees for this year for the visually dis abled have been set at £20 per course inclusive of the administration fee.
"This can be reduced to £10 if the learn er is eligible for concessions.

"The college has welcomed visually- impaired learners from across the country for the past 15 years and acknowledges that in the past it has been able to provide these programmes free of charge. Unfortunately this cannot continue due to circumstances beyond our control."

Tony Edwards, chief executive of the Hertfordshire Society for the Blind, said: "Obviously, we do not want to see an increased cost to visually-impaired people and we're unhappy that they have to pay more.

"Having said that, this is not exclusive to North Herts College and the problem has to do with a drop in Government funding. "Without increasing charges the college cannot meet the running costs of the course and, as it offers the widest range of courses for the blind in the county, we would rather see courses running than not." Mr Edwards said people in the North Herts had told the society they would have difficulty meeting the new costs. It is offer ing them advice on potential funding opportunities.


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