A CHARITY has called for the abolition of day centre charges for mentally handicapped people on Income Support.

And Mencap claims councils may be illegally charging people with learning disabilities for using day centres, according to a survey published today.

The Mencap survey "Fully Charged" looks at local authorities' charging policies for non-residential services.

Mencap (Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults) is worried that more than half the authorities in England and Wales which charge are charging people who are on Income Support. The benefit is intended to save people from poverty and Mencap believes that these authorities could be breaking the law because they are not charging a 'reasonable' amount for services.

Mencap believes charging for day centres represents a tax on disability and should be stopped.

A Blackburn with Darwen council spokesperson said:

"Our maximum charge for attendance at a day centre is £6.00 a week.

"Where the service user is in receipt of Income Support, they will be charged £1.55 per week.

"We will be increasing this charge, in line with inflation, from April 1 to £6.20 and £1.60 respectively.

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "Any charge for day services to individuals takes account of the ability to pay and of varying income levels on the part of service users.

"Depending on the ability to pay, charges may vary from no charge to a maximum of £6 per week.

Fred Heddell, Mencap's Chief Executive said: "Charging policies are being developed randomly across the country with no regard for the ability to pay.

Mr Heddell believes that the Government must look at charging policies as a matter of urgency, otherwise he thinks we will return to a time when people with learning disabilities cannot afford to attend day centres, causing them to lose any independence they have gained.

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