Anger as Ottery's over 80's told to pay for valued service

PUBLISHED: 13:51 31 July 2009 | UPDATED: 09:50 18 June 2010

VULNERABLE over 80 s in Ottery will have to pay for a previously free scheme that links them to the outside world in case of emergency from September 1.

VULNERABLE over 80's in Ottery will have to pay for a previously free scheme that links them to the outside world in case of emergency from September 1.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) on Wednesday rubber stamped a bid that will see Home Safeguard customers, that are above 80 and in receipt of benefits, charged for the service, to "balance the books", despite protestations from several councillors.

Charging for the service, which provides elderly residents with 24-hour human contact through equipment set up in their homes, including a pendant worn around the neck at night, could see pensioners who suffer a fall left alone, stricken by hypothermia or dead, members warned.

Ottery councillor Roger Giles, said his late mother had benefited greatly from the scheme and labelled the decision as "ridiculous". He warned it is "inevitable" health services will be inundated with scores of "broken limbs or worse," and said: "If an old person falls over on their way to the bathroom in the night, they would be able to summon assistance, rater than spend the night on the floor.

"Apart from the individual tragedies that result from this decision, there are likely to be additional costs for hospital and health services."

EDDC will consider giving customers financial assistance, and its portfolio holder for the issue can grant exemptions in cases of genuine hardship, but only after applicants have been the subject of a "means test".

Cllr Ann Liverton fears a generation of over 80s will be "too proud" to ask for help.

She said: "They do not come to the council and say they are in hardship, very often they just don't ask. I'm deeply unhappy with this.

"It's a sad moment, charging over 80s on benefits to balance our books."

Cllr Christine Drew said she understood the decision from "a business point of view" but feared over 80's will end up "with hypothermia or dead."

EDDC Leader Sara Randall Johnson was asked not to implement the decision, but declined to do so. She warned the service could be lost altogether if cuts weren't made. Councillors then voted in favour of the decision.

All other customers currently provided with a free Home Safeguard service will be charged from April 1, 2010.

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