Romford autism charity Rags cuts services in half “because of council delays”

A “lifeline” charity for parents with autistic children has had to unexpectedly slice its services in half because of delays at Havering Council.

Romford Autistic Group Support (Rags) provides respite, education and training for 140 families, including activities for more than 200 children. Last year its budget was �97,000, including �70,000 from Havering – the same amount it received the year before, despite a 40 per cent increase in membership.

But statutory changes in the way after-school activities (“short break care”) are funded mean Rags won’t know whether it has any council funding at all after October until a “mini-competition” where parents can choose service providers is held later this month.

“The council has continually delayed its decision on which organisations will be chosen so that we simply are unable to plan or continue our current financial position,” CEO Anne Myatt this week wrote in a letter to parents.

Parents’ choices at the event will account for 40 per cent of the council’s decision on whom to award the contract, with the cost of the services accounting for another 40 per cent.

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The quality of the service will account for just 20 per cent of the council’s decision.

“We’re a tiny charity and if we carried on at the same level in September and October then come November we wouldn’t have enough to stay open,” Ms Myatt told the Recorder.

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“This way, whatever the outcome we will still be here, still paying the rent and the phone bill, and we can search for other funding.”

As a result, Rags has reduced its weekly services – including children’s arts, computer and sports clubs – to fortnightly with immediate effect. Ms Myatt said she had made the decision “with a heavy heart” but that she had no choice.

Rags is worried the new contracts will stop some children receiving care.

“We are yet to be informed of the eligibility criteria for children,” Ms Myers wrote in her letter to parents. “Despite repeated requests for this information, none has been forthcoming, which concerns us greatly.

“Rags has never restricted support because of lack of diagnosis, financial position, extended family support or a child being too able.

“We are also concerned that our policy of including siblings will no longer be able to continue.”

Havering’s children and learning boss Cllr Paul Rochford said: “We want to give parents of disabled children much more choice and control over what respite activities are available to them, and who provides them.

“After consulting with parents, we put together a brochure of all groups which provide the activities parents most want. The upcoming event will give parents and their children a chance to meet the groups and then tell us their preferences.”

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