SOME of the most vulnerable people in Southampton are facing a blank future due to a hike in fees.

People with learning disability in the city could be forced to give up on vital services due to a fee increase, the Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal.

Carers condemned city bosses saying they increased charges for the services without assessing the financial needs of the service users.

Mencap Southampton, the organisation that supports people with learning disability in the city, said in many cases the charges have more than doubled, forcing carers to consider to withdraw their loved ones from the services.

This means people with learning disability may have to give up on respite services and a range of activities which include swimming lessons, singing and music classes and a number of workshops aimed at helping them feel more independent.

Southampton City Council (SCC) said the new charges are affordable and vowed to work with anyone who is experiencing difficulty.

Jane Butt, 52, from Southampton, looks after her 30-year-old daughter Georgina who can only walk short distances and was diagnosed with a learning disability when she was one year old.

The charges Georgina pays for the workshops she attends have increased from £15 to £50 a week, according to Ms Butt.

She said Georgina’s needs and finances were last assessed in 2015 and said the city council told her that a new assessment should be done in the next six weeks.

“The new charges are too much for me,” Ms Butt added.

She said she has no family to support her and if she won’t be able to afford the services in the future, Georgina will become housebound.

“She will feel isolated from her friends. Her home will become her own prison and I feel like I am letting her down as a mother. It will be hell,” Ms Butt said.

She added: “It’s like going back to Victorian days, lock them away and forget about them. These services are all Georgina has to feel independent and they are trying to take them away from her. They are hitting the most vulnerable people in the society. They are entitled to a better life, to a social life like everybody else.”

Amanda Davies, 54, from Weston, looks after her 24-year-old son Crann. She said her son’s monthly contribution has gone up from £154 to £280.

“It’s a huge amount of money. We didn’t have a financial assessment done. I was horrified. We feel trapped,”she said.

She said these services are vital as those who run them are often the first to notice if there is any change in the behaviour of service users.

Alex Iles, chief executive of Mencap Southampton, said last year the city council launched a consultation over the increase in charges and a new adult social care charging policy.

She said stakeholders were reassured that the authority would not charge any more than the service user can afford.

Ms Iles is now calling on the authority to carry out financial assessments and review the adult social care charging policy approved in February.

“First the council have put people through this painful process of Kentish Road and then this issue. I think there’s still some lessons to be learnt,” she said.

This comes after recent investigations into the way SCC dealt with the closure of Kentish Road Respite Centre found faults in care assessments, carers assessments review and poor communication.

Amanda Guest, a carer who campaigned to keep Kentish Road Respite Centre open, said their fight with the council is not over yet.

Dan Fitzhenry, leader of the Conservative group is asking the Labour-led council to scarp the increase in charges.

At the governance committee meeting held on May 14 councillor Lorna Fielker, cabinet member for adult care at SCC, said that given the increase the council should have communicated the changes differently and should have provided more context and information.  But she also stressed that the authority is working to make improvements.

SCC said the implementation of the new policy should not mean that carers have to withdraw their loved ones from care services and stressed that the authority is keen to work with anyone who is experiencing difficulty to ensure they can access the support needed.

“In cases of financial hardship the council has the discretion to waive all or part of any charges on a case by case basis. Customers are means tested and only those considered to have the financial means will be expected to pay increased charges,” SCC said in a statement.

When asked if the council had assessed the needs of each service user before implementing the charges and to explain on the basis of which financial information the increase was made the authority said: “A new financial assessment was carried out for each individual who receives care and support funded by the council, based on the information held by the council about their finances and annual changes in state pension and welfare benefits. Financial assessments are updated routinely every year and we do ask people to update us immediately if their financial circumstances change. We wrote to people a month before the changes took effect and reminded them to get in touch with any changes, a helpdesk was set up to deal with enquiries from people who wished to challenge the amount or update their information.”