There are fears for the future of a vital service in West Norfolk after the main source of its funding has been cut.
West Norfolk Disability Information Service (WNDiS), which provides adivce and advocacy for disabled people, is facing imminent closure after its core funder withdrew its support this month.
Local health authorities under various names, including lately the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), have provided financial support since the service was founded in 1999, but the NHS authority has said that it has to spend money on health matters, which it says this is not.
Jonathan Toye, co-ordinator for WNDiS, said: “This is a major blow. WNDiS gives information to hundreds of people fighting for benefits and their rights.
“Many agencies refer their clients to WNDiS for help with benefit appeals for which the service has a high rate of success. WNDiS campaigns for positive changes improving the quality of disabled people’s lives.”
Mr Toye said it would likely be a couple of months before the money runs out.
He said: “Having that core funding allows us to build up the other bits and pieces – grants and donations – but we are running on the bare bones here, we are not a very expensive service.”
A spokesman for the CCG said: “The CCG took the decision about a year ago to cease providing WNDiS with about £13,000 of annual funding.
“This decision was taken because the CCG was informed by WNDiS that much of its work is not related to healthcare, rather it spends much time and resources on assisting people with benefit claims.
“The CCG is required to ensure its money is spent on providing health-related support, as residents in West Norfolk might expect.
“The CCG gave six months notice of its decision in February 2016. The CCG continued to fund the service up to January due to a misunderstanding over when funding would cease.”
But Mr Toye said due to the misunderstanding the cut still came as a shock.
He added: “To say we are not to do with health is shortsighted. We help people so they don’t have to use more expensive services like foodbanks.
“Obviously the CCG has financial constraints but people rely on us, it would be a complete disaster if we were to close.”
Now Mr Toye – well known to many in the town as Rainbow Warrior, after his former column in the Lynn News – said in the few days since he revealed the news, WNDiS has received a number of messages of support, and is asking those who have been helped by the service to appeal the decision.
He has asked of the public to write to the press, to the CCG and to local MPs to fight for the service to be saved from closure, which is described as imminent.