THOUSANDS of pensioners across Worcestershire are being asked to pay for “vital” alarms in their own homes.
About 6,500 people could be affected by a county council bid to save money on a 24-hour alarm service.
The alarms, activated by pulling a cord or pressing a button on a pendant, link to either housing association wardens or specialists working at a Malvern call centre who can contact emergency services.
Until now pensioners on housing benefits were given the service free under a strategy called Supporting People.
Now council chiefs are consulting over a charge – a move which has angered many elderly people.
Ann Jones, aged 83, who lives at Himbleton House sheltered housing complex in St John’s, Worcester, said: “I’ve used it three times this year alone for my heart – it’s a wonderful service. It’s been free until now, I don’t understand it.”
Fellow pensioner Joan Warner, 81, said: “If I’m asked to pay I just can’t afford it.”
Council chiefs have refused to reveal how much money they are thinking of asking for, but say the 6,500 people who get it free are subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £914,000 a year.
The customers include mainly elderly people, but also some vulnerable under 65s who have a range of disabilities and require a 24-hour alarm.
Some live in their own private properties but many live in homes managed by their nearest housing association or a sheltered complex.
Pensioners not on housing benefits can also apply for a call alarm, and are means tested. Council chiefs say many of the fee-payers fork out between £1 and £4 a week, which is unfair when so many get it for free.
About 2,000 letters have gone out to customers asking them for views on what they would be prepared to pay.
Elaine Carolan, lead joint commissioning manager, said: “Currently there are different criteria in place to determine whether someone should receive a call alarm funded by Worcestershire County Council.
“This has resulted in people who use a call alarm paying different amounts for the monitoring of their call alarm – some people pay nothing while others pay as much as £4 a week.
“In Worcestershire we hope to move to a system where everyone will have access to the same service at the same price. This could result in some people paying more than they currently do for their call alarm.”
She also said the move was part of a revamp of the alarm systems, which means the old hardwired boxes will be phased out and replaced with modern units that plug into telephone lines.
- The call alarm service is free to 6,500 people in Worcestershire who are eligible for housing benefits
- They get cords placed in rooms of their house and/or a pendant around their neck
- When activated, an alert goes to a local housing association warden between 8am and 10pm
- Alerts after 10pm go straight to Worcestershire Telecare, based in Malvern, which has access to family contacts and 999
- Voiceboxes are also placed in properties so if they fall, they can still hear a voice on the other end
- People not eligible for housing benefits are means tested for the alarms and can be asked to pay between £1 and £4 a week – there are about 1,000 of these
- At least 1,400 of the free customers are based in Worcester, and the rest spread around the county
- Alarms for non-paying customers cost taxpayers £914,000 per year
DAVID Mease, 79, who lives in Himbleton House sheltered housing complex in St John’s, Worcester, with his wife Mary, has had a heart attack and a stroke.
The former shipyard worker said the alarm system was a “lifeline” for many pensioners.
“I’ll give you an example – one day it was late at night and I heard this big bang in a room nearby,” he said.
“I pulled the cord and soon enough paramedics turned up – it turned out this woman had taken a nasty fall out of bed and hurt herself.
“She couldn’t reach the cord but it was a good job I reached mine. I’ve had a couple of incidents like that – these alarms are pretty vital. A lot of people won’t be happy with it. They will pack it in rather than face making a payment.
“It’ll be all about who can afford it, rather than on a basis of need. These alarms are a lifeline.”