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Free travel for carers

Passes which allow carers to travel with disabled people on the bus for free, will be reinstated by the end of September.

The reintroduction of companion passes was one of a number of changes to a new voucher scheme put forward by Maidstone council cabinet member Cllr Mark Wooding (Con) and agreed at an urgent cabinet meeting on Thursday night.

The Conservative cabinet agreed four amendments put forward at a “robust” scrutiny meeting on Monday by Lib Dem and Independent councillors.

But they stopped short of agreeing another recommendation to extend the eligibility for the vouchers, specifically for people who cannot walk.

Travel vouchers were cut under the previous council administration when the national free bus pass for over 60s was introduced by the government in April.

Council leader Cllr Chris Garland (Con) said: “This scheme puts something in place for the people most severely affected by the decision last year.”

He said it was important to remember that the new scheme was helping those most severely disabled who there was no current provision for.

He said that bringing back companion passes for people living in Maidstone borough would cater for many.

The vouchers, which would be administered by a third party, and are likely to be available at the end of September. They could also be used for taxis and mean that the voucher holder could be accompanied at no extra cost.

The meeting heard that legal advice had been sought over whether the council could offer people travel vouchers in exchange for their pass, and had found it could, but further opinion would also be sought.

The meeting also agreed to review the scheme when its £55,000 threshold had been reached and quarterly thereafter, and that disabled people who had already been assessed through the Department of Work and Pensions did not need to be re-assessed for the vouchers.

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