Ombudsman’s rebuke for county

A DECISION to withdraw audio books from some people with sight problems has led to Suffolk County Council coming under fire from the official watchdog.

The Local Government Ombudsman found that the county had acted wrongly when it cancelled the subscription of 250 people with visual impairment to the audio books service provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

The subscriptions cost �82 a year, and the RNIB lodged the complaint on behalf of seven people with visual impairment.

Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin identified six ways in which the county had been at fault in the way it had withdrawn the service to some clients.

She said: “They will rightly feel aggrieved that they have lost out on an opportunity to influence a decision affecting them and to have a say in what and how services are provided to them.”

The county decided to withdraw the service to anyone who used it to hire less than 20 books over the previous year, and Dr Martin criticised the arbitrary way the figure was set and applied without enough consultation.

The report says that the county has agreed to look again at the 250 people whose subscriptions were cancelled, and if a social care assessment showed that the subscription was needed it would be reinstated.

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Cyril Long from the Ipswich Blind Society said the majority of people who used the service would still have their books funded by the county council because they used it enough.

He said: “Most people would say it is not unreasonable to look at whether it is right to pay subscriptions of those people who do not use the service very much, however it is clear that the county council should have gone about this differently.”

He said people who had lost their subscription felt there had not been enough consultation, and the decision was made without enough consideration for individual circumstances.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “As the Ombudsman has made clear, we have acknowledged the findings and agreed to implement all the recommendations in this report.

“We have already updated our training for staff - which includes providing further training on our equality duties.

“We are looking at each case where subscriptions to Talking Books have been stopped and are contacting each of those people to assess the impact on them.”