Pensions bill could cause charity to fold

A charity that supports blind and visually impaired people could be forced to close due to a pensions deficit.

Members of the Society for the Blind of Dewsbury, Batley and District were warned at last week’s annual meeting the the cost of leaving a pension fund could bankrupt the society, which has been running for 95 years.

The society lost a Kirkees Council rehabilitation contract to the Birmingham Institute for the Deaf (BID) earlier this year.

At Thursday’s meeting at the Whitfield Centre in Soothill Lane, members heard the loss of the contract would impact upon the pension scheme the society’s workforce is enrolled in.

Treasurer Terry Armstead explained that a change in the regulations of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund meant that only groups with a local authority contract could be enrolled in the scheme.

He said: “What that means in practical terms is that the society faces eviction from the West Yorkshire Pension Fund

“I have applied to the fund for a forecast of our exit liability.”

He warned that the forecast could decide the fate of the society.

“When we know what the exit liability is we can then hopefully carry on in this centre, or in smaller premises if it comes to that.

“If the liability is such that it wipes out all of the society’s assets we have no option but to wind up.

“We all sincerely hope for the sake of all visually impaired people in north Kirklees that it’s not going to come to that.”

He added that there were possibilities for the society to apply for grants to boost its income.

Society presiden Batley and Spen MPMike Wood said it had been a horrendous year for the charity and urged members to pull together.

He said: “We are looking at moving into a new era and we have to put behind us what has happened in the last year and learn lessons from it.

“Whatever the situation the need for this society is just as great as it’s ever been.”

The charity willcontinue to offer a range of services to the blind and visually impaired community in Kirklees when the contract is handed over on October 13.

But the shortfall in income means the Whitfield Centre will now only open for three days a week.

Remaining rehabilitation staff will work from home or visit clients on Mondays and Fridays.