Able2UK Losers

Blue Planet Aquarium denies free entry for carer

the shark tent and blue planet aquarium

A tourist attraction has been publicly shamed for telling a disabled man he must pay for his two carers to assist him around the venue.

Thomas Griffiths, who has severe learning disabilities and complex medical needs, has held a long-time membership to Blue Planet Aquarium in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire for most of his life.

The 20-year-old, from Higher Kinnerton in Flintshire, north Wales, has not visited the aquarium since June 2022 since they were told they could only bring one carer for free, whilst the other had to pay full price.

His father, John, has called the policy “appalling” which has left Thomas having to "choose between essential care and enjoying a day out".

Blue Planet has refused to make any allowances, even though John has been assessed by the NHS who state he needs two personal assistants.

If he wants to visit the attraction from now on it will cost the family an additional £25.25 per visit on top of the £75.75 annual membership, the only other option would be to fork out £606 so his eight carers, who take it in turns looking after Thomas, can become members.

John, 53, told Mirror Online:  “I can’t understand how they don’t see this as discriminating against Tom. It means he can’t come.”

A spokesperson for Blue Planet Aquarium told Cheshire Live: “Blue Planet Aquarium has always provided guests with health conditions or impairments a free of charge carer’s ticket upon proof of eligibility. We accept a wide range of forms of eligibility, including Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment letter, a letter from a GP or Consultant confirming the need for a full time carer, or a valid Access Card displaying the ‘essential companion symbol’. We admit a maximum of one free of charge carer per eligible paying guest, with additional carers requiring a valid ticket.” 

Thomas uses a powered wheelchair, he is registered blind and lives with complex epilepsy which can trigger a number of seizures on a daily basis.

He is fed through a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy [PEG], is non verbal and is only three months developmentally.

His dad said: “If you spent 30 seconds with Tom, you would know that he needs two carers.”

Thomas was assessed after leaving school by the NHS who concluded he needed two carers with him at all times.

In the summer of 2022 his grandparents took him to the aquarium after his membership was renewed in June, but they were told only one of them was entitled to a free ticket.

When challenged by the family Blue Planet Aquarium told John: ‘Unfortunately, it is our policy for only one carer to receive free admission with a service user. Thomas is more than welcome to bring two carers with him; however, we are only able to provide one free of charge.

“It may be more cost efficient for you to purchase an annual pass for Thomas that will automatically have a free carers admission included with every visit (which can be different carers each time), however; to purchase an annual pass for the second carer; it does need to be the same carer as the pass will require a name and photograph."

John then signed up for an Access Card which explains why Thomas needs two carers at all times, the service is listed on the Blue Planet Aquarium website, but the attraction still refused to change their strict policy.

“It’s definitely discrimination against him, there’s no two ways about it,” John told the publication.

“He has to have two carers, that’s in his assessment by the NHS for his care, otherwise there’s no way they’d be paying for two carers. He can’t even go in with one, because he’s too big and one person can’t look after him. Particularly with the epilepsy, you literally can’t go for a wee. Somebody has to be with him 24 hours a day.”

Thomas Griffiths with his family

The family have a much easier time when they visit Chester Zoo, where they have a lifetime membership.

“There’s never been any problem there. With Chester Zoo, I had to take a letter to prove he had to have two carers, and I got a letter from the care team that said Tom has to have two-to-one care, and they said that was fine. But for some reason Blue Planet don’t want to hear it.” John explained.

“I understand their policy, but in certain cases with very poorly people, why would you make it harder for them?”

Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at Scope, “It’s appalling that disabled people are paying more to enjoy attractions like the aquarium. Disabled people should never have to choose between essential care and enjoying a day out.

“We know that life already costs more for disabled people. Scope research shows disabled people need £975 more per month than non-disabled people, just to enjoy the same standard of living. In this climate, it’s essential that businesses like Blue Planet Aquarium don’t price out their disabled customers. We urge Blue Planet Aquarium to listen to their disabled customers and remove these unfair extra costs."

Martin Austin, managing director of Nimbus disability which introduced the Access Card, said: “It’s difficult for a lot of venues to appreciate that ‘plus 2’ is a thing. The need for two companions is pretty rare, but it is a really significant need and most organisations' infrastructures are not geared towards processing two companion tickets because it is rare. That is not a defence of the situation, and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t recognised."

He went on to say Blue Planet was ‘named and famed’ by Nimbus after the charity received positive feedback from an Access Card user.

Austin said: "With some providers, we’re really heavily involved in how their policy and process works, for instance Merlin Entertainments, Alton Towers, Chessington.

"Whereas, with organisations like Blue Planet, we only discover that they accept the card when a card holder has told us that they’ve had a good experience there, in which case we put them into ‘Named and Famed’, or where we see that the Access Card has been added to the list of evidence that they accept.”

He added: "In this case it looks like Blue Planet have put the access card as an acceptable form of evidence alongside several other different things. We’re re-launching the website completely in the next couple of weeks, so that will absolutely change.”

[ Martin Austin said he will be contacting Blue Planet to discuss the matter. ]

Related Articles

Help support us continuing our groundbreaking work. Make a donation to help with our running costs, and support us with continuing to bring you all the latest news, reviews and accessibility reports. Become a supporter or sponsor of Able2UK today!

Able2UK Logo