Shop RNIB Donate now

RNIB’s new FOI report reveals a hidden social care scandal

Thousands denied right to support after sight loss in hidden social care scandal.

Thousands of blind and partially sighted people are being denied their right to vital rehabilitation services – the first step in rebuilding life after sight loss – a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to local authorities in England, has revealed. A new report by RNIB unearths the hidden scandal of people at all stages of sight loss being let down by a forgotten, under-resourced social care service, operating without scrutiny and with a veritable patchwork provision of care.

Some 86 per cent of local authorities are missing the 28-day recommended deadline by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to explore a person’s needs after sight loss – which can happen over time or suddenly and without warning.

RNIB’s stark FOI report, entitled ‘Out of Sight: The Hidden Scandal of Vision Rehabilitation Services Across England’, highlights that 26 per cent of local authorities leave blind and partially sighted people waiting more than a year for a vision rehabilitation assessment and subsequent support – sometimes at a traumatic time. These delays to the support people with sight loss are legally entitled to also leaves them at increased risk of physical accidents and injuries, as well as mental health crises.

Done well, vision rehabilitation equips people with new ways to stay independent: to get out and about, adapt their work, do the weekly shop and enjoy the hobbies they love – with the lack of support leading some to tell RNIB they fear they will become isolated.

To add to the inequity, vision rehabilitation services, and preventative services in general, are the only specially assessed adult social care services not to be monitored by the care regulators, such as the CQC, allowing delays to pass unnoticed.

Vivienne Francis, RNIB’s Chief Social Change Officer said: “Life changes after sight loss, sometimes overnight, often in dramatic ways. By law, support must be provided through specialist vision rehabilitation services run by local councils or contracted out to third parties, but our FOI report shows the service is completely unregulated with a patchwork provision of care leaving people with sight loss falling through the cracks.”

RNIB’s FOI report also highlighted how under-resourced vision rehabilitation services are, with a quarter (26 per cent) of local authorities using non-specialists to undertake vital assessments and some areas having no vision rehabilitation specialists at all. The report also showed that nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of local authorities have ongoing vacancies for specialist staff.

Vivienne Francis, RNIB’s Chief Social Change Officer, continues: “We know that local authorities in England are struggling to cope with the rise in demand for vision rehabilitation services, and to resource the service effectively. However, threadbare services mean that thousands of blind and partially sighted people wait often more than twelve months without the support they’re entitled to so they can live their lives to the full. This hidden social care injustice needs to be fixed – we’re calling on all UK political parties to commit to ensuring people with sight loss get the emotional and practical support they need, when they need it.”

Impact of vision rehabilitation

Terry Quinn, 59, from West Yorkshire, has Diabetic Retinopathy and was registered Severely Sight Impaired in 2019.

Terry said: “During this time, I became a shell of my former self. I of course, lost my driving license, I had to give up my beloved job and career and found myself in despair. Over time I spiralled, I would spend days and weeks in the house by myself, not daring to go out.

“I didn’t want to see friends anymore, as I didn’t want them to see this pathetic thing that I had become. This person that could no longer find a chair to sit at, could no longer find my cup or glass, or even make my own drink.

“I didn’t receive much help and guidance from the hospital – yes, they completed a (Certificate of Vision Impairment) CVI form, saying that someone from the local authority would be in touch – but, they never were.

“I have never felt so alone in my entire life. I had gone from a successful, NHS Senior Manager, then self-employed businessman - confident, great social life. Now I had absolutely nothing to contribute whatsoever. I could no longer see my son’s face, my partners face, or even my own!

“It was through a routine appointment with a wonderful lady at a local Low Vision clinic - she could see how I was struggling - asked me if I had spoken to anyone from the council at all – Vision Rehab services. I said not at all. She made several calls, and within a day or two, a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist called me. I cried my eyes out over the telephone with him, and he arranged to come see me at home.

“He made three visits over a few months, and he was Severely Sight Impaired himself, coming to my home with his assistant. They were lovely people, I would cry buckets at every appointment, but he made me think more positively, thinking, ‘well, he is blind, so, when he tells me that I will still be able to do the vast majority of things I loved, just by doing it differently then it must be true’.

“He gave me information, and helped me get a travel pass and concessions. He gave me a lesson at home on how to use a white cane to go up and down steps. I was taken outside once, and shown how to find a kerb...and that was literally it.

“Any other information I got about sight loss was through research on the internet by myself. Listening to YouTube bloggers. I looked at the RNIB website several times.

“I couldn’t go on anymore, I would go to bed of an evening, hoping and praying that I would not wake in the morning. But, unfortunately, I did wake, and had to suffer another day.

“Then, as a last resort, I plucked up the courage to call Guide Dogs UK, after weeks of thinking about it. I had no expectations, but felt that once I had called them, I could say to myself that I had done all I could, and tried everything I could.

“That one call led me to living and loving the best blind life ever! I got my amazing life-changer and saver Guide Dog, Spencer, just before the first lockdown in March of 2020, and can honestly say, I am living my best life. I fear nothing, am independent. My partner and friends say its like having the old Terry back – some even saying an improved version ha-ha.

“We travel the world, on planes, cruise ships, trains, buses. I go away with my partner and Guide Dog, and we now go away as a couple again. Life really is THE BEST.”

Notes to editors

Read RNIB’s full vision rehabilitation report ‘Out Of Sight, The Hidden Scandal of Vision Rehabilitation Services Across England:

Follow the campaign on RNIB’s Twitter and Facebook channels under the hashtag #OutOfSight.

Find data for Vision Rehabilitation waiting times with our interactive online tool here:

Watch our campaign video here:

Sign our petition here:

All media enquiries to the RNIB PR team at [email protected] or 020 7391 2223. For urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.

About vision rehabilitation

Vision rehabilitation is a form of adult social care, which supports blind and partially sighted people to retain their skills and confidence by developing new ways of doing everyday tasks. This can include a package of services like mobility or white cane training, emotional or peer support, technology skills to use the accessibility features on a phone or software to read a computer screen, how to cook and shop independently.

RNIB’s full policy recommendations:

  1. RNIB is calling for vision rehabilitation services to be subjected to the same regulation and monitoring as other adult social care services. This could be done within the current legislative framework and by extending the remit of the Care Quality Commission.
  2. Commissioning of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to develop guidelines and quality standards, with local authorities having to report on these to government and publish annually.
  3. Recognise the skill and expertise of Vision Rehabilitation Specialists (and Qualified Habilitation Specialists) by making Vision Rehabilitation Specialists a regulated profession.
  4. Encourage better integration of services through strengthened links between secondary and social care settings, with a guaranteed route in to vision rehabilitation for everyone who needs it, while ensuring blind and partially sighted people are made aware of their rights and the services they can expect to receive.

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit