East Devon pensioners will have to pay for vital lifeline

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

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

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.

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".

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.

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Cllr Christine Drew said she understood the decision from "a business point of view" but feared over 80s 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.

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

Everyone else will have to pay from September 1 this year.

"IT'S scandalous!"

That was the reaction of East Devon District Council's decision by former three times mayor of Honiton Joanna Bull, who has herself benefitted from the Home Safeguard scheme.

"This service is nothing to do with money, an ability to pay. It is about people not being found dead in their homes after days or even weeks," she said.

"This inspirational service, set up by East Devon District Council, was congratulated by the community it serves.

"It is ironic that now, when we are trying to stay in our own homes, saving thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money and hanging on by our fingernails to support ourselves, that we should have to face this financial burden."

Speaking of her own experience of Hone Safeguard, Mrs Bull said: "I am a user of this 24 hour service since 1990 and it has saved my life twice.

"This is a life-saving service, designed for people with need and, especially, for those who struggle to live alone.

"Council tax has rocketed under this government and we are already paying more for less.

"Councils live in a world of their own, not much help when they are voting for the needs of the vulnerable."

Mrs Bull added: "To the users of this facility, remember you are already paying through your taxes, so no favours.

"I trust there will be a quick rethink before it is too late.