21 January 2010

Youreable homepageUncertainty surrounds the future of one of the UK’s most popular disability discussion forums after it was closed following its takeover by a national charity, amid allegations of bullying, harassment and police involvement.

Youreable is an online store selling disability aids combined with a lively discussion forum, probably the second busiest of its type in the UK, after the BBC’s Ouch forum.

Youreable was originally set up in 2000 by Joe Ratko using a million pounds won in a Channel 4 competition.  The forums became extremely popular at a time when there were few similar provisions on the net.  Even with more recent competition they remained a very lively community with forums about everything from benefits to motoring, sex and relationships. 

However, Youreable was recently sold to a multinational disability equipment supplier and subsequently resold to the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), a national charity providing advice on mobility and disability aids..

It is alleged that soon after DLF took over, complaints were made to the police about bullying and harassment on the forums.  The allegation is that this had been going on for some time before DLF took over but had continued under their auspices and that some of the forum’s moderators may have been either failing to deal with the problem or were complicit in it.

The police, it is claimed referred the issue to the Charity Commission who contacted DLF shortly before Christmas.  DLF took the decision to close the forum over Christmas as they would have no paid staff on duty who could oversee it.  A notice was posted explaining that the forums would reopen in the first week of January.

The first week of January, however, came and went without any reopening and a new message now reads:

“We apologise that the Youreable forum is still unavailable. Unfortunately we were notified just before Christmas that issues had been raised about the forum. In the light of this, we had no choice but to close it down and will need to keep the forum closed for a little longer while we deal with these concerns. “

We contacted DLF and asked for details of what had happened and when the forums would be open for business again.  We received an acknowledgement but no response, as has been the case for many Youreable members who have contacted us.

If the allegations are true, then clearly DLF have found themselves in a very difficult position. 

But it should be borne in mind that Youreable is a community that has existed for a decade and it is of great importance to many of its regular users.  To keep them completely ignorant about what is happening is unfair and, ultimately, misguided.  The Youreable business undoubtedly relied on its popular forums both to attract customers and to sell advertising space to the public and private sector. 

Every day that the forum remains closed, without a word of proper explanation or hint about its future, devalues DLF’s asset and causes more distress to those who relied upon the friendships they formed there


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