Page last updated at 08:10 GMT, Sunday, 7 June 2009 09:10 UK

Blind 'miss millions in benefits'

Mark Hannaby
BBC Wales Politics Show

Angharad Rhodes with her mother Linda
Linda Rhodes has won her case for an allowance to take her daughter Angharad to an eye hospital in London

Around 14,000 blind and partially sighted people in Wales are missing out on a total of £34m a year in benefits, according to a charity.

RNIB Cymru said people desperately needed specialist help and were under-claiming by an average of £45 per week.

Funding problems mean its welfare rights service is available only in five out of 22 Welsh council areas.

Local government leaders said ensuring access to services was important to councils but budgets were very tight.

On Tuesday, the RNIB will take a campaign to change the situation to the Welsh assembly.

RNIB Cymru welfare rights team leader Michele Richardson said many people were living in poverty unnecessarily.

The last two years have placed exceptional pressure on council budgets, leaving them with no option but to make difficult and often unpopular decisions over service delivery
Welsh Local Government Association

She told the BBC Politics Show: "I've actually been in somebody's house where they've lived on cereal because they haven't been able to afford to buy proper food. And that wasn't even with milk. It's very, very sad."

Having initially been refused disability living allowance, Linda Rhodes's six-year-old daughter Angharad now receives that benefit after Ms Richardson took on her case and helped overturn the decision.

Angharad, who lives in Holyhead, Anglesey, was born with bi-lateral Peter's anomaly, which affects the development of her eyes.

She also had cataracts on both eyes and microopthalmia, which meant her eyes stopped growing.

In addition she has glaucoma, where too much presssure in the eye damages the optic nerve leading to loss of vision, and nystagmus, which is an uncontrollable wobble of the eye.

RNIB Cymru's intervention proved crucial as the additional benefits money the Rhodes family received enabled Angharad's vital medical care to continue.

Michele Richardson with Angharad Rhodes with her mother Linda
Michele Richardson helped the family with their appeal

Angharad must attend regular appointments at Moorfields eye hospital in London and Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool.

Mrs Rhodes said: "It actually helps in order to go to the hospital appointments. Without it, then we probably would have had to stop the hospital appointments.

"We just couldn't afford the travel. It's £100 a time going to London plus accommodation costs as well and then we (also) go to Alder Hey. It just was so expensive."

The situation's been getting worse not better. Services which were operating in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr and Angharad's authority Ynys Mon have stopped due to lack of council funding.

Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths believes fellow assembly members will respond to the charity's call.

She said: "I'm sure assembly members right across Wales will be lobbying their local authorities as we speak because its an extremely important issue and we all have constituents who are visually impaired and need that extra assistance."

A Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson said:

"Ensuring vulnerable people get access to the services they need and deserve is important to every Welsh council. Indeed, hundreds of support services are being delivered every day across Wales.

"The last two years have placed exceptional pressure on council budgets, leaving them with no option but to make difficult and often unpopular decisions over service delivery.

"Unfortunately, we already know from budget reports that the next few years are going to be even tougher.

"All decisions made over local service delivery are taken by Wales's 22 councils, with each council taking into full consideration the full range of its service pressures and the budget available."

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