A ground-breaking agreement between the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), TV Licensing and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) will make it much easier for people with severe sight impairment to access a blind concession TV Licence.
Previously, evidence from a hospital consultant ophthalmologist was needed to obtain the concession. This requires revisiting old hospital notes and needs at least one hospital outpatient visit, increasing demand on an already challenged system.
Furthermore, the removal of universal entitlement for over 75s and the requirement for means-testing for free TV licences has increased demand from this age group to become certified as severely sight impaired.
Professor Jonathan Jackson, Head of Optometry Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast, said: “Concessionary TV Licenses for those certified as severely sight impaired, formerly referred to as blind, have always been viewed by those unfamiliar with eye care and vision impairment, as something ironic. Why would someone who is blind actually utilise a television? The point is however that less than 5% of those certified as sight impaired actually have no useful vision.
“So whereas someone who is sight impaired may not see as much detail on a television as a fully sighted individual, they are able to get a lot of visual and auditory information.
“There have also been advances in accessibility, such as the availability of some programming with audio description. Television is a very useful way of staying informed, engaged and connected with society in general. This is really important, as in many cases social isolation and depression is a consequence of failing sight.”
With support from the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB); the HSCB and hospital Trusts have now agreed a new process with TV Licensing that a letter from a community optometrist stating that a patient with reduced vision would be eligible for Certification of Severe Sight Impairment (SSI), can be used as evidence to apply a blind concession TV Licence.
The RNIB are working with TV Licensing to make this agreement UK wide as soon as possible.
Latest figures (2019) demonstrate that 323 people were certified with SSI in NI, most usually from macular eye disease, diabetic eye disease, and glaucoma.
“More people are eligible for certification but either chose not to, or are unaware of the process. The option to identify and exempt appropriate cases without recourse to hospital eye services has patient-centred and system benefits,” said Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services, HSCB.
“The HSCB is very happy to support this strategy which has the potential to simultaneously recognise the needs and concerns of an already marginalised sector of society, reduce unnecessary hospital referrals at a time of challenged capacity, and perhaps even prompt previously reluctant people living with sight loss to re-engage with the SSI certification process.”
People who are blind (severely sight impaired) and can provide the appropriate evidence are eligible to apply for a 50% concession. A blind concession TV Licence costs £79.50 for colour and £26.75 for a black and white TV Licence.
Gillian Clifford, Interim Policy and Campaigns Manager at RNIB, added: “RNIB is delighted to have had this opportunity to work with TV Licensing and health and social care colleagues, to develop this important initiative. In a time of enormous pressure on our health and social care system, this community based approach, represents a practical, creative, and responsive solution to assisting blind people in Northern Ireland to evidence their eligibility for a 50% TV Licence concession.
“We hope that this will help to reduce the time taken to expedite the TV Licence application process for blind people, whilst also easing the high demand for consultant led appointments. We remain enormously grateful for the outstanding work of clinicians and the Trust Sensory Support Teams across Northern Ireland and we are particularly grateful to Community Optometrists for their involvement and support in delivering this valuable new option for blind people here.”