Members of the HIV-positive community are reporting fear and apprehension over a shake-up at longstanding HIV/AIDS charity Bobby Goldsmith Foundation that will see telephone rental assistance slashed and utilities subsidies capped.

But the organisation has moved to reassure its clients, saying the changes that take effect next month are an effort to broaden services as customers come to require longer-term support.

BGF chief executive officer Bev Lange told Sydney Star Observer the changes followed feedback from clients and HIV/AIDS service providers that suggested a new structure was needed.

From 1 October, BGF will limit claims for gas and electricity bills to $300 per year. It currently pays up to half of each utility bill presented, with no dollar value limit set. The charity will also cease paying all clients’ monthly telephone line rental, and will no longer pay excess water charges.

Lange told the Star that the $300 limit was above the ordinary average currently provided to clients for these services.

She said the changes -“ outlined in letters sent to BGF clients in July – were an attempt to provide a more holistic service that looked at each client’s whole circumstances.

What we are interested in doing is looking at their whole circumstances and working with them to see how we can best support them, Lange said.

According to the most recent HIV Futures Survey, a biennial national study last released in 2004, 27 percent of people living with HIV/ AIDS live below the poverty line, and more than half experience some difficulty covering daily living expenses.

Norman, a BGF client since 1996 who is on the disability support pension, said the changes would mean further hardship.

 I know that when it comes round to paying the electricity and all that, there’s going to be one fortnight or one month that I’m just going to have nothing, he told the Star.

Tony, another BGF client said the organisation had become too bureaucratic and the forthcoming changes were just appalling.

Tony, who is also on the disability support pension, said: It will just get harder. I can foresee there will be a time when I won’t even be able to have internet access because I won’t be able to afford it.

It certainly doesn’t make you happy to go and see them.

Geoff Honnor,  executive officer of People Living with HIV/ AIDS (NSW), said his organisation  had received some negative feedback about the BGF plans.

People have certainly said to us that they feel they’re going to be materially affected by this, that their circumstances will change, Honnor told the Star.

There is fear and apprehension about how it will work and the only way we can allay those fears is to see how it goes.

But Honnor said his organisation -“ which was part of the reference group that helped develop BGF’s new service guidelines -“ was supportive of the need for change.

Lange denied BGF was moving away from a direct financial assistance model.

We expect that we will need to support clients for a much longer period time than perhaps they originally and we originally envisaged, Lange said.

But we’re not going to step away from any financial assistance request. In fact we encourage people to come and talk to us about their needs of us as an organisation, she said.

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