Westminster’s transport U-turn gives boost for elderly and disabled

Up to 1,000 disabled and elderly people will have their subsidised taxi journeys returned to them after Westminster Council made a U-turn on the controversial cuts.

Last year the council introduced a financial assessment for its Taxicard applicants, which meant only those on benefits could travel in black cabs at a reduced rate.

The change saw hundreds of people angry at losing out, as 60 per cent of Taxicard users were no longer able to use the scheme. Now the council has decided to backtrack on the policy and allow some disabled people to rejoin the scheme regardless of their financial situation.

A council report, published this week, warns the U-turn could portray Westminster as “retracting its decision on another transport issue” after Westminster’s controversial evening and weekend parking charges plans were scrapped in January.

The report also concedes the U-turn will result in “mixed messages being sent out” by having to “send letters out again to people who have already been told they were ineligible”.

Explaining the reversal, it states: “It became clear that there is a band of Taxicard users who are not wealthy, but nor are they receiving any of the benefits identified in the financial eligibility checklist.

“Many of these have high levels of disability, yet are still ineligible for the scheme.”

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The new criteria, which comes into place on Monday, will see blind and severely sight impaired people automatically eligible for a Taxicard.

Westminster Older People’s Action chairman David Hogarth said there are many people who still need further encouragement to leave their homes.

Writing in his Wood&Vale column this week, he said: “The relaxation is very welcome but that doesn’t mean numbers of Taxicard users will be back to the old levels.”

The council estimates implementing the changes could cost up to �15,000 – money that opposition leader Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg says is “money well spent”. “This is a victory for common sense,” he said. “The council could have avoided all the anxiety and concern that has been caused to many registered blind and partially sighted people if it had thought this through sensibly from the start.”

Westminster adults boss Cllr Rachael Robathan said the changes would ensure “those in greatest need of the Taxicard scheme will continue to get the benefits”.