Charity slates move to charge elderly for ‘life-saving’ system

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LIFE-SAVING alarm systems will no longer be offered free of charge to elderly Wigan residents.

The withdrawal of the service – the latest result of council cuts – has sparked concern that hundreds of pensioners will have to do without a community alarm because they are not able to meet the costs themselves.

But cash-strapped Wigan Council defended the “regrettable” move by stating that essential services needed to be protected after subsidies for the previously free service were withdrawn.

Pensioners requiring a community alarm facility in their home will now have to pay more than £20 a month to private companies for its continued use.

John McArdle of Age UK Wigan warned that the withdrawal of the free service could end up costing the public purse even more funds.

He said: “Potentially this could be a retrograde move. In the current climate when increasing numbers of people are living at home when before they would have moved into care homes due to financial restraints, it is another expense for vulnerable people relying on payments to live.

“The psychological effect of these alarms is difficult to quantify. Having them there makes people feel safe in their own home and anything that undermines that feeling is regrettable.

“Of course the council is being forced to make cuts, they have been hit by many millions, but this could cost even more as people who do have accidents may be left for longer, increasing their time in hospital and potentially making them more reluctant to move back to living independently.”

One provider of the community alarm service, Eldercare, will charge £3.19 per week while a mobile response package will cost £5.27. The charges will come into effect in from next month.

Those deemed to have a substantial need for the service will still receive the alarms free of charge but will be subject to assessments by local authority social workers.

One resident with an elderly relative, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Evening Post: “These are the alarms that are installed in the home, with a pendant also, and help can be there with the touch of a button.

“My mum can not afford this, she lives on her own and has had a few falls, one was in the early hours and the came right out and sorted her out. To ask for basically £20 a month is ludicrous.”

Wigan Council had to absorb more than £20m in cut-backs last year with significant amounts taken from the social care budget meaning several facilities - such as the Pines residential centre - will either face closure or be transferred to community ownership.

Assistant director, Liv Bickerstaff, said: “The community alarm service is part of Wigan Council’s wider assistive technology service.

“This element has been provided free of charge for people who receive means-tested benefits, who would not otherwise qualify for funding from the council for this type of service. It was provided to people in order to support them in their homes, rather than in connection with their care needs.

“The council has to make significant savings and is reviewing its services. From September, we will be withdrawing subsidies for services that are not related to people’s assessed social care needs. This is regrettable, but we must ensure that we protect essential services as best we can, and direct funding towards critical care services.

“Wigan Council will continue to make community alarms available to people who have been assessed by a social worker as having a critical and substantial need, and where the community alarm addresses this need.

“These people will have a financial assessment to determine whether they need to contribute to the service they receive.”