By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website
The charity for deaf people regards lip-reading as a vital skill
The government should be providing lip-reading classes in England at little or no cost to people who have lost their hearing, according to a charity.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) says the cost of learning varies from one area to another.
It says that since the government changed the rules in 2005, local authorities are charging higher fees.
The government says it is up to individual authorities to set the fees for courses they provide.
Until 2005, classes were provided free of charge.
Then - following a change in policy in further education in England - some local authorities (LAs) introduced fees for lip-reading, which the charity describes as a "vital skill".
It is especially useful for deaf and hard of hearing people who are trying to communicate in noisy environments.
Using a Freedom of Information Act request, the RNID has ascertained that 2,000 people are learning to lip-read.
It says that a "significant minority" of local authorities are now charging high fees and consider lip-reading to be a leisure activity.
This, it claims, is causing people to drop out which, in turn, is leading to the closure of some classes.
"Lip-reading helps deaf and hard of hearing people to retain their independence, keep working and stay active in their communities," said RNID campaign manager, Agnes Hoctor.
"We've discovered an unacceptable postcode lottery of provision in England."
Ms Hoctor says central and local government should see lip-reading classes an an essential service and not an optional extra.
In Scotland there are 63 classes and 34 tutors. Most classes are free and where there is a charge prices range from only 20p to £2.90 per class, according to the RNID.
Scotland has a variety of funding streams for these classes including health, lottery and local authority sources. The Scottish Course to Train Tutors of Lip-reading has called for classes to be seen as part of rehabilitation and for funding to come exclusively from the health sector.
The charity says Wales and Northern Ireland also offer only low cost classes, but there are not as many on offer at the moment.
In England some of the highest charges are in London where the borough of Sutton charges more than £240 for a 30-week course.
Harrow - in north-west London - charges more than £200.
In the borough of Poole (Dorset) the cost is £213.
In Essex and Manchester classes cost more than £180.
The RNID says that the government's own figure of 80% of classes being free of charge has now fallen to 66%.
Thirteen LAs offer free classes, including Kent, Lancashire, Norfolk and the London borough of Richmond.
MPs in areas of high charges have been asked to support the RNID's campaign.
The government says local authorities are best placed to set the level of fees for their courses, according to local circumstances.
"Further education colleges can use their discretion to waive fees for priority groups such as those with learning difficulties or a disability," said a spokesperson for England's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius).
"The government also ensures that courses are free for students on low incomes, such as people in receipt of income support."
Sutton Borough Council - which charges the highest fees - said the RNID figures were misleading.
"The figure of £241 quoted refers to the full fee and does not apply to anyone who is hearing impaired," a council spokesperson said.
"Such people are entitled automatically to the concessionary rate of £97 a year, and people on low incomes can apply for a hardship fund in which case the course is free."
The Borough of Poole - which the RNID reports as charging £213 - says the figures do not take account of the funding provided for adult learning services which likewise varies from one area to another.
"Within very tight financial resources, Poole Adult Learning targets concessions to make sure that those people most in need can access this 30-week course for just £60," said Kevin Mcerlane, the borough's head of culture and community learning.
The London Borough of Harrow says the charge of £206 reported by the RNID is the fee charged to the public by a local college.
Anyone referred to the lip-reading course by the council is only charged £106 and those entitled to a concessionary rate pay £34.