An elderly disabled man in a council-run sheltered home has told the News he was shocked to discover he and other residents are now being charged nearly £300 a year for safety alarms.
As of last month, the charges have affected residents across the borough receiving care services, including in 20 council sheltered homes for over-60s, or in their own homes.
Southwark Council began introducing its new £5.75-per-week charges for safety alarms in April, to residents with savings of more than £23,250, and depending on their income.
The charge applies specifically to telecare pendant alarms residents wear around their necks, to use if they have a fall and cannot reach the pull-cord alarms in each room.
The disabled man, who did not want to be named, told the News: “I’ve been living here for sixteen years. A few days ago we had a letter saying if we do not pay every week, our pendants will be disconnected.
“I’m disabled and always in this flat, I’ve done physical work all my life and it’s got to the point where my back won’t support my body any more.
“My problem is that this used to just be in the tenancy agreement we signed up to as standard. Everyone understands that these alarms are meant to be a basic service.
“They said they would just disconnect us if we don’t pay. But what if someone doesn’t and they have an accident, and needs an ambulance and can’t call for help?”
The 20 sheltered units run by Southwark Council accommodate tenants who are renting privately, and who are receiving housing benefit. They are advertised on the council’s website as having “24-hour alarm” services, used to “alert the sheltered housing support co-ordinator or other response team”.
The new charge also follows a government-enforced two-per-cent council tax increase, specifically designed to help councils pay for adult social care. The tax hike came as the council announced it now faces cuts of £47m over four years.
Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for adult care and financial inclusion, said: “We are committed to continue giving people the services they need and we know how important the telecare service is to older residents in helping them feel safe in their homes, but significant budget cuts mean councils need to be more realistic about how far funding can go.
“Introducing fairer contributions as a result of government changes in the Care Act, and asking people who can afford to contribute to do so, is a necessary way to help us to continue to provide quality care services for everyone who needs them.
“This does not mean that anyone should go without, but just that some people may need to contribute if they can afford it.”
The council is also offering five per cent discounts for residents who receive council-run care at home.
But the worried resident who spoke to the News also felt that this new charge could lead to the council and housing associations trying to introduce more charges in future.
“They could well start charging for the pull-chord in the bathrooms next,” he said.
“If they can get away with this, then what will they start charging us for next?”