Honiton seniors confront government officials

TWO government officers, speaking at the annual meeting of the Senior Council for Devon, were confronted by Honiton representatives about service cuts and new charges in East Devon.

TWO government officers, speaking at the annual meeting of the Senior Council for Devon, were confronted by Honiton representatives about service cuts and new charges in East Devon.

Neither appeared to know about the plan to begin charging older people for Home Safeguard pendants or a lack of free swimming for pensioners in Honiton.

Tony Simpson, secretary of Honiton Senior Council, was told by Philip Johnson, head of the South West Government Office, that the government could not tell local councils exactly what to do.

He said he could not say if it is only East Devon District Council or if other councils are imposing charges for the Home Safeguard scheme. He agreed to look into the matter.

Andrew Murray asked another civil servant, John Coxon, how was it possible for EDDC to avoid the provision of concessionary swimming for elderly. This was contrary to government policy, he said. He alleged generous bonuses were being given to officers concerned while East Devon pleaded "there are too many elderly people for them to be able to afford free swimming".

The 12-strong delegation from Honiton was among the strongest at a well-attended meeting, held last Thursday.

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The two civil servants were told by Tony Smith, chairman of Honiton Senior Council, "means testing for health" was the phrase now being used over the pendant system. People on benefit would be excluded from the charge.

"A previously free home safety alarm system will now cost vulnerable people over 80 �2.56 a week and that is contrary to Government promises," said Mr Smith. "There should be improved services for the elderly not putting them at risk."

EDDC has told the Senior Council for Devon that it "deliberated long and hard about this decision".

The senior council was told: "People over 80 in private housing and receiving housing/counil tax benefit received the service free of charge at a cost over �80,000 to council taxpayers. The decision was influenced by the fact that over the last 10 years benefits have changed significantly with attendance allowances and 'roll out' of individual personal budgets for those who require personal care so they can remain in their own homes."

New clients have to pay for the service and existing clients will pay from April 1 2010. EDDC is to upgrade the system, at a cost of �40,000, with new assisted technology.