WOLVES OFFERED WAY FORWARD
Wolves supporter Brendan King and another disabled fan, 87-year old Thomas Jones have both been squeezed out of their regular parking spaces at Molineux this season - forcing Thomas to stop attending matches. Now Brendan updates the story, and although he's shying away from legal action, he offers what looks like a sensible way forward.
Open letter to Wolves FC from Brendan King and Thomas Jones, disabled supporters: October 26th 2009
Dear Matt Grayson and colleagues at Wolves FC,
Re: Disabled supporters parking within Molineux Stadium:
Thomas Jones and myself wish to thank you for your closing letter to him dated October 9th 2009.
Neither of us intend escalating our complaints. As we've previously intimated, as very long serving Wolves supporters we would never envisage taking action on our complaints beyond the Club itself.
We have and will continue, however, openly to publicise this issue as we believe a community based, highly supported public access facility such as Wolves FC, should be accountable to public opinion.
In your final letter to Thomas Jones, you state: "We have been open and honest with yourself and Mr King in all our previous correspondence and believe we have addressed all the issues you raised..."
We wish this were completely true. When we, separately, rang the office to find we'd been deselected, we weren't told that the criteria had been changed this season without full consultation with disabled applicants nor with the help or advice from external expertise.
In fact, despite Wolves’ stating that the current criteria had been in place for several years and been made in consultation with the Benefits Agency and a disability adviser from the City Council, it later transpired that precipitate and ill-advised changes were made this season without proper consultation and advice.
Mr King was also informed that the two disabled supporters’ representatives on the Fans’ Parliament took part in the selection process. This turned out to be misinformation as only one (also an applicant) was phoned at short notice to attend a meeting with a small officer panel of two, at which new criteria were set.
An email from Wolves stated: "As you (Mr King) are not on DLA higher rate mobility or care you were not a priority". Yet a DLA form, confirming his higher rate mobility status, was sent as in previous years when his application had always been successful.
Despite pointing out this misrepresentation, in writing, Mr King has still received no acknowledgement of the error in the determination of his disabled status, nor an apology from the officer concerned.
At any rate, as no questions were asked about DLA higher rate care component (a new and ill-thought out criterion) and none, therefore, given by Mr King because he had no notion that this was a significant additional criteria, it must have been on the assumption that he was not in receipt of that (irrelevant) component that he was downgraded to a non-priority this season and deselected.
You point out that the Premier League guidance is that, if applications outstrip demand, then a lottery be held. In our view, if too many applicants with severe mobility disabilities or visual /cognitive impairments have applied then, perhaps, it’s better to hold a lottery, as a last resort, making losers a priority in the following season, so rotating allocation to all valid applicants.
What it seems Wolves did, in the face of increased demand however, was to make stringent new selection criteria based upon inappropriate disability benefit entitlements, without informing applicants before or after selection.
And this, bizarrely, resulted in disqualifying an 87-year-old with collapsed vertebrae and a 66-year-old paraplegic who has not walked for almost 30 years since severing his spinal cord, both of whom are wheelchair using disabled drivers and, therefore, very needy and valid applicants vitally requiring a within stadium, widened, parking space.
You state "that all applicants are invited to apply and submit any supporting information, which is considered alongside all other applications received".
If this means that further information, beyond disability benefit entitlement proof is invited, this is not the case. The application question for a disabled parking space is narrowly combined within the same application form for disabled supporters season tickets.
Only disability benefit questions are asked and with no space, or invitation, to include further information to back up the application, other than stating briefly, in a one line spaced box, the specific nature of the applicants disability.
A specific question about the applicants status in relation to DLA care component was not on the form, whilst a question about mobility component was. This was an error of omission as the care component criteria was used in deciding the highest priority applicants and was not merely ‘supporting information‘.
Both Mr Jones and I have been at pains to reiterate that we're not criticising the facilities created since the stadium was rebuilt 16 years ago. As we both attended the old ground, as disabled supporters, we were delighted at the new facilities created.
We recognise, also, that Wolves have tried to avoid allocating an in-demand disabled supporters parking facility on an arbitrary first- come-first-served, or lottery, basis with the very best of intentions. But having embarked upon a selection process, based on making spaces available solely on a needs / qualitative led basis, then this should have been carried out on an equitable, transparent, basis.
Any change of criteria has to be well considered and expertly informed, including proper consultation with the maximum number of interested disabled fans and based upon an application form that clearly sets out all of the selection criteria and processes.
If the new selection process could not be carried out well, perhaps, no attempt to carry out such a change in selection should have been attempted. Carrying out a revised selection process precipitately and in a flawed manner, was likely to create injustices and many complaints from aggrieved (not merely "disappointed") fans.
Thomas Jones hasn't attended a Wolves match since the first game of the season. He used a taxi for that match, but hasn't attended since, despite having purchased season tickets for all home matches. He has to park near to the disabled supporters’ entrance, as he can’t propel his wheelchair far, so parking in the streets is impractical for him at his age and with his severity of immobility. He has no-one to reliably provide escorted assistance.
So Wolves have put off the attendance of one of their oldest, most vulnerable and venerable (though independent) of fans, by the way in which allocation for disabled supporters parking spaces was carried out this season.
The selection criteria is, quite frankly, bizarre. The following is the communication received from the supporters' liaison officer, about the criteria (note that it's clearly stated that the criteria have been in place for a number of years and based on expert, external, advice -- which we later found not to have been the case).
"In light of the above, several seasons ago we enlisted the help of representatives from both the City Council and the Benefits Agency in drawing up selection criteria which is used to allocate these spaces.
This criteria is as follows:-
- Under 17s were automatically allocated a space whether wheelchair or ambulant.
- Over 65s on Higher Rate Mobility and Higher Rate Care Allowance were then allocated a space.
- Next were those in receipt of Higher Rate Mobility and Higher Rate Care of the Disability Living
- Finally any remaining spaces were allocated to those in receipt of Higher Rate Mobility and Middle Rate
The first (highest) criteria relates to under 17s being allocated a space whether wheelchair-users or ambulant.
This poorly phrased criterion makes no sense and could not be based upon professional advice. It effectively gives all under-17s, who apply for disabled supporters' season tickets, first priority for disabled supporter parking over all other disabled applicants.
This can't be just, as not all disabled young people will have need of a disabled supporters parking space, but there may be a temptation to request this facility merely for the high convenience factor. Our observations and information leads us to believe that this injustice is actually happening this season.
If a benefits entitlement criterion is required for over 17s it should apply, also, to under 17s. Severely disabled young people are equally entitled to DLA, including the higher rate mobility component. When Mr King wrote asking for clarification on this ambiguous criterion he received no answer to this query.
The second criterion appears to give second highest priority to over-65’s who are disabled. But over-65s with a disability (including ambulant difficulties) are only entitled to Attendance Allowance (which excludes a mobility component) if they applied for a disability benefit after reaching the age of 65. They are not entitled to DLA mobility or higher rate care components, whatever their severity of disability, unless they applied before the age of 65.This criterion, therefore, effectively excludes all of those on Attendance Allowance which is most over 65s with severe mobility disabilities.
It seems that this second criterion disqualified Thomas, for the first time since disabled spaces were created. We can’t believe that the Benefits Agency or the City Council would have advised exclusion of virtually all elderly, non-ambulant, supporters in this way.
So this second criterion gives a false impression that over-65's are given a high priority, whilst in fact it virtually rules out most of them, which can't be just. Attendance Allowance, where the supporter had high mobility difficulties, should have been taken into account as highly as DLA higher rate mobility and care components.
Included in the second and third criteria is a requirement to be in receipt of higher rate DLA care component. Whereas the higher rate mobility component is for help with getting out and about, the care component is for help at home.
The middle rate (as in the lowest, 4th, criterion) is for those needing a high level of help at home during the daytime. The higher rate is for those who, additionally, require attention during the night at home. It seems, from the email communication received, that those on the 4th criterion (middle rate of care component as with Mr King) were ruled out as not a priority even if on higher rate mobility and /or proven to have severe mobility difficulties.
As attention at home, during the night, is irrelevant to parking for attending a football match, this criterion can’t be just and unlikely to have been based upon professional, expert and wide ranging advice.
On reflection, we both now suggest that the selection process be simplified. In past communications, we've suggested that a wide range of background information be taken into account in addition to appropriate benefit entitlement criteria.
But we now accept that this leaves a deal of subjective judgements to be made and would be quite a difficult and time consuming task for a non-expert selection panel. And it would, no doubt, lead to continued dissatisfaction and undue pressure on the responsible Wolves officers in dealing with the inevitable complaints from failed applicants. So we finally suggest the following:
A) The 48 disabled supporters parking spaces be reserved only for non-ambulant, or severely ambulant restricted, supporters. Effectively, spaces to be allocated only to those who use wheelchairs or walking frames (not just a walking stick) and those with severe visual or cognitive impairment and who have to be physically guided into the ground by an escort.
Forms of evidence required to prove these needs, to be based upon DLA higher rate mobility; mobility supplement of a war pension; or Attendance Allowance for over-65s where there is severe mobility impairment. A letter from a GP, or specialist consultant, also to be accepted as evidence, to take account of those who have severe mobility difficulties, but may not have applied for and be in receipt of the above benefit entitlements. The DLA care component not to be considered as a significant factor in selection.
B) If the selection criteria, as above, still results in over-demand, then under 17’s and over 65’s equally to be prioritised. If this still results in more than 48 valid applicants, then all those who applied before the Early Bird deadline to be prioritised. If those remaining still outstrip demand (unlikely) then a lottery to be imposed.
So elements of the two criteria suggested by the Premiership is included. But for those two arbitrary criteria to be implemented only as a last resort.
Can we suggest that these, or similar, constructive and straightforward revisions be outlined in a questionnaire to all previous valid applicants for disabled supporters parking passes, asking for their views and suggestions. In other words, a proper consultation exercise be carried out. This questionnaire could be sent well before the Early Bird season ticket renewal pack is sent out. This could be by email to those with internet access (email address contact information was requested on last seasons application form) and by post to those without email contact.
We warmly welcome acceptance of our complaint on late allocation of spaces and in not informing failed applicants, with reasons, until the day before the start of the season and then only if they enquired. We welcome a commitment to address this next season.
We hope, also, that our constructive suggestions, or similar, regarding selection be put out for consultation. We're sure that you and your colleagues would prefer a straightforward, clear and simple process that doesn't provoke year upon year confusion and dissatisfaction at the manner of selection - one that doesn't waste your colleagues' valuable time in dealing with stressful complaints from sincere and loyal supporters such as us.
These hard thought-out considerations arise from Mr King's long career experience as a specialist trained special needs teacher; plus extensive work as a trained disability benefits adviser with the Citizens Advice Bureaux and, also, for 20 years to the present, as a lay legal adviser / tribunal representative with a national charity for special needs young people. So we hope Wolves’ can pay confident regard to our constructive, experienced based, suggestions.
Sincerely, Brendan King and Thomas Jones.
Wolcerhampton Wanderers are offered a right of reply. Just contact email@example.com
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