Discretionary Freedom Passes

Consultation into Discretionary Freedom Passes

London Borough of Harrow's consultation on Discretionary Freedom Passes ran for 11 weeks from 15 June 2023 to 3 September (extended from 20 August) 2023.

The Council wanted to formally consult on proposed changes to the Discretionary Freedom Pass scheme in Harrow. Discretionary Freedom Passes are for people experiencing mental health issues. Harrow is the only London local authority offering a scheme specifically for residents suffering mental health issues. Some London Boroughs do not offer discretionary freedom passes at all.

The proposal was to stop issuing passes for new applicants. Existing Pass holders would continue to benefit from their concessions as long as they continued to meet the eligibility criteria.

The outcome:

The Executive Member of Finance has now considered the results of the consultation and has decided NOT to make the changes proposed. The Discretionary Freedom Pass, for people experiencing mental health issues, will still be available to new applicants as well as existing recipients.

The decision was officially reported to London Borough of Harrow’s Cabinet on Tuesday 19 December 2023.

We thank you for your comments during the consultation.

Why was the saving proposed?

London Borough of Harrow spends a significant amount of money on Concessionary Travel. Due to the pressures on Adult Social Care and the need to reduce costs the Council must find savings. In these challenging times it is important that the Council continues to provide safe, efficient, high quality core services that meet the needs of the most vulnerable. However core services in Adult Services are in high demand and are a high spending area of the Council. As a consequence, Harrow wanted to review the provision of the Discretionary Freedom Pass service.

How much would have been saved?

The estimated saving was £18,000 over three years, with the first £6,000 expected in 2024/25. Continuing with the closure to new applicants would, over time, have saved larger sums as existing users drop out at renewals, or due to moving out of borough etc.

How was the consultation advertised?

Stakeholders were emailed directly, as well as existing users of the service . Additionally the consultation went online in June 2023 and ran originally for six weeks. All those originally emailed were directed to the online consultation. The consultation period was extended due to concern that it had not reached enough users for a further five weeks into September 2023.

Some 423 individuals visited the consultation pages on MyHarrowTalk, more than half of them looked at the information contained on the pages. Some 50 responses were received online.

98% of the responders were not in favour of stopping discretionary freedom passes for new applicants.

Two-thirds of responders (62%) did not have a Discretionary Freedom Pass. One in five (20%) did, and one in six (16%) were responding on behalf of someone who did.

While most respondents (88%) were individuals, responses were received from:

  • Citizens Advice Harrow.
  • Harrow Association of Somali Voluntary Organisations.
  • Voluntary Action Harrow.

All the above were against the changes proposed.

Top 5 reasons given for continuing Discretionary Freedom Passes:

  1. Supporting Disabled People: The pass is a useful way of supporting disabled people, including those with mental health conditions, to participate in the community, ensuring they can access essential services and maintain social connections.
  2. Mental Health Access: Providing free access to public transport for people with mental health conditions is essential as it helps them attend appointments, engage in social activities, and reduces social isolation.
  3. Early Intervention: The pass allows for early access to mental health resources and support, leading to better mental and physical health outcomes, long-term cost savings for healthcare systems, and reduced emergency waiting times.
  4. Economic Impact: The cost of providing a Freedom Pass is minimal compared to the potential long-term costs of intensive health and social care for individuals with mental health conditions. It aligns with Harrow Council's values of protecting the most vulnerable and supporting families.
  5. Equality for Disabilities: Treating mental health as a disability and providing the same benefits as for physical disabilities ensures fairness and supports individuals with various health conditions.

Top 5 most cited comments regarding the proposal to phase out the Discretionary Freedom Pass completely in five years:

  1. Opposition to Phasing Out: Many respondents expressed strong opposition to phasing out the Discretionary Freedom Pass completely. They argued that individuals who have mental health conditions or disabilities often require the pass for the long term, and it is not reasonable to assume that their conditions will improve within five years. They emphasised the importance of ongoing support for these individuals.
  2. Concerns About Bureaucracy: Some individuals who agreed with annual reviews had reservations about the bureaucratic nature of the process. They felt that frequent assessments might be stressful for individuals with mental health conditions and suggested that the reviews should be simplified and conducted by trained professionals.
  3. Criteria Already Strict: Several respondents mentioned that the criteria for obtaining the pass are already strict, and individuals typically have to meet specific eligibility criteria, such as receiving the mobility component of PIP (Personal Independence Payment) for a certain duration. They argued that this existing criteria should be used as a guide instead of annual reviews.
  4. Stress and Anxiety: Many respondents raised concerns about the stress and anxiety that annual reviews could cause for those who rely on the Discretionary Freedom Pass. They felt that frequent assessments could be detrimental to the mental health of passholders and should be avoided.
  5. Need for Compassion: Some respondents emphasised the need for compassion and understanding in the decision-making process. They argued that phasing out the pass would disadvantage already vulnerable individuals and that compassion should guide the council's actions.

It's important to note that opinions on this matter vary widely, with some individuals supporting annual reviews as a means to ensure eligibility and prevent misuse of the pass.

What respondents told us about the impacts if the Discretionary Freedom Pass scheme were withdrawn:

  1. Limited Mobility and Independence: Many respondents expressed that the withdrawal of the Discretionary Freedom Pass would result in limited mobility and independence. They would not be able to go out as often as they like, which could lead to a loss of independence and life skills they have developed.
  2. Increased Isolation: Respondents mentioned that the withdrawal of the pass would lead to increased isolation. They would have difficulty accessing social activities, support groups, and community events, ultimately affecting their mental well-being.
  3. Financial Strain: Losing the pass would place a financial burden on individuals, especially those on low incomes or benefits. They would need to cover the cost of public transportation, which could be a significant expense.
  4. Negative Impact on Mental Health: The withdrawal of the pass could worsen mental health conditions for many individuals. Increased stress, anxiety, and reduced social interactions were cited as potential consequences.
  5. Difficulty Accessing Medical Appointments: Without the pass, respondents expressed concerns about their ability to attend medical appointments. This could lead to delays in accessing necessary healthcare services.
  6. Reduced Engagement in Community Activities: The pass allows individuals to engage in community activities, and its withdrawal would reduce their participation in group activities and community events.
  7. Increased Risk of Suicide: Some respondents mentioned that the pass's withdrawal could lead to increased suffering and potential suicides among those struggling with mental health issues.
  8. Impact on Education and Work: The pass is essential for some individuals to access education, work, and volunteering opportunities. Its withdrawal could hinder their ability to participate in these activities.
  9. Strain on Healthcare Services: The withdrawal of the pass might lead to an increased strain on healthcare services, as individuals might forego appointments or not seek help when needed.
  10. Loss of Independence: The pass provides individuals with a sense of independence and freedom to move around. Its withdrawal would result in a loss of this freedom and reliance on others or costly transportation alternatives.

These impacts underscore the importance of the Discretionary Freedom Pass scheme for individuals with mental health conditions and disabilities in terms of their mobility, well-being, and access to essential services.

Based on the survey responses, these are the most cited comments on the Discretionary Freedom Pass:

  1. Importance for Disadvantaged Communities: Many respondents believe that the Discretionary Freedom Pass is a crucial tool for enabling disadvantaged individuals to participate in the community. They argue that taking it away would be cruel.
  2. Vital for Mental Health: There is a strong consensus among respondents that the pass is vital for individuals with mental health conditions. It provides them with access to essential services, supports mental well-being, and prevents isolation.
  3. Concerns about Increased Costs: Some respondents expressed concerns about the increasing cost of travel. They believe that withdrawing the pass would further impact and isolate disabled individuals, particularly in times of financial crisis.
  4. Support for Maintaining the Scheme: Respondents generally support the continuation of the Discretionary Freedom Pass scheme in its current format. They emphasize the importance of not making cuts to support for vulnerable individuals.
  5. Critique of Decision-Making: Several respondents criticized the decision-making process, particularly the timing and accessibility of the survey. They also suggested alternative ways to find budget savings, such as targeting corporations and tax loopholes.

Overall, the opinions expressed in the survey highlight the strongly held view in the importance of the Discretionary Freedom Pass for individuals with disabilities, particularly those with mental health conditions, and a desire to protect this support system.

Executive Member decision:

The consultation has confirmed the strength of feeling for Discretionary Freedom Passes and how they are considered.

There are currently 206 recipients of Discretionary Freedom Passes. The proposal was not to stop the concession for them but rather to make it unavailable to new applicants. Historically we know this would impact on a maximum of 4 to 8 new applicants a year.

The savings within the MTFS were small (£6,000 per year for 3 years). Continuing with the closure to new applicants would, over time, have saved larger sums as existing users drop out at renewals, or due to moving out of borough etc.

The Executive Member decision is that the expected saving is surpassed by the strength of feeling and therefore the scheme should remain open to new applicants.

The final outcome of the consultation is therefore that the scheme is not changed and the policy continues as previously, meaning that new applicants can continue to apply if they meet the criteria. Existing holders are not affected.

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