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Anger as West Midland Safari Park scraps free carer entry

A Black Country mother has spoken of her "anger and disappointment" after West Midland Safari Park removed free admission for carers.

David Sheriff has visited the safari park for 32 years and it's his favourite place
David Sheriff has visited the safari park for 32 years and it's his favourite place

Despite having an annual pass which included the free admission of a carer, David Sheriff, from Stourbridge, was told that the park no longer offered carers free admission.

His carer then had to pay a £22 admission fee, which was covered by David's mother, Helen Ashby. She is now awaiting a refund from the park.

Helen said: "He would never be able to access the safari park without support, it's not like he has the choice to have a support worker to make things easier. He has care 24/7, one to one. He is never out of eyeline, ever.

"If you go with Dave to the safari park, you're on high alert at all time. He would quite happily get out in the middle of the lions because he has no sense of danger. It's not a jolly.

David is a frequent visitor with his carer

"If you are a wheelchair user no one is going to charge you £22 to bring your wheelchair on site. But if the only way you can access a facility is with a support worker or carer, how can they get away with charging £22 for that?"

David, 33, has Down's Syndrome, autism, and is frequently in a wheelchair as his knee often dislocates.

Helen added: "They have slid it under the radar. There's been no big communication, they changed their website and tried to slide it by during the winter season."

Feeding the giraffes

The attraction has now promised to honour free admission for holders of the annual pass for the remainder of the contract if it was bought in 2021 .

But Helen will now have to pay £75 for her son's annual pass and £50 for a carer's annual pass on top of this, bringing the total to £125.

Carers without the annual pass will have to pay the discounted entry price of £22, bringing the cost of a guest and their carer to £47.

David and rhino pal

Helen said: "I have no problem paying £50 for a carer's pass. But if you look at somebody who's in residential care, everything bar £28 is taken off you towards your care. £28 is your personal spend for the week.

"So if the care provider isn't willing to pay the carer's fee, which they usually don't, you physically could not go to the safari park unless you saved for two weeks and nothing else.

"It hasn't been thought out. I'm really angry and disappointed."

David with the penguins

Helen had also shared her disappointment that the new carer's pass would require a photograph of the carer, making the pass non-transferable.

She added: "That's fine if it's a single-parent caring for a disabled child, but David has six staff, so do I buy six passes for £300, or do I tell him he can only go to the Safari Park on the one day that staff member is on shift?"

Bosses at the park have since listened to Helen's feedback and will no longer put photo ID on annual passes for carers.

The attraction defended their removal of free admission to carers, claiming that the option was being used fraudulently.

But Helen said: "I do understand that people abuse but it's so simple to ask for the evidence - of either a PIP letter, a DVLA letter, a doctor's letter, or blue badge - like all the other places do."

The attraction claimed a minibus could gain entry with one disabled person and twelve people acting as carers.

A spokesperson for West Midland Safari Park said: “The decision to remove free admission to the Park for carers is not a decision we took lightly and a number of factors were taken into account, including examples of people exploiting the system.

“Carers still receive a variety of benefits, including the opportunity to purchase discounted admission tickets and annual passes. They also receive free multi-ride wristbands.

“We will continue to offer free entry for carers who accompany Disabled Annual Passholders, if those passes were purchased or renewed in 2021.

“For any Disabled Annual Passes purchased or renewed from January 1 2022 onwards, accompanying carers will be required to purchase a discounted admission ticket for the day, or a discounted Annual Pass.

“We understand that the same carer may not always accompany the same disabled guest. Therefore Annual Passes now purchased for carers will not require a photo.

"We hope this will give those guests the flexibility for their carer needs when visiting the Park.

“We value all guest feedback and we look forward to meeting with Helen. Not only is she a Mum to her disabled son, David, but also a voice for the carer community.

"We always seek to listen and review our policies and we would like to take the time to discuss the points she has raised.”

Helen replied: "I am grateful to the safari park that they appear to have taken on board the issue of different carers supporting the same disabled visitors at different times, and have made the late but welcome decision to make the carers passport transferable."

David has visited the safari park his whole life, going upwards of 20 times a year.

"It's his favourite place," Helen said, "He wouldn't understand if we couldn't afford to pay for him and staff to go."

She added: "If something negatively impacts my children I can be sure it will have the same impact on many others - when I speak up and speak out it is for the community my children belong to not just my children themselves. If we don't make a stand nothing changes."

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