Life-saving alarms could be too expensive for vulnerable
HUNDREDS of vulnerable people who have free use of emergency alarm pendants because they have little cash will find out today if they will have to start paying.
The service, called Carelink, allows people to press a button hung round their neck to get support in an emergency.
It is provided by Derby City Council and used by individuals and housing organisations which run sheltered housing complexes.
The authority currently provides Carelink free to hundreds of people because they have low income but wants to start charging all customers in the face of cuts to its grant from the Government.
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It also wants to increase charges for those who already pay, with the combined changes aimed at saving £238,000 in 2013-14.
A final decision on the plan will be made at tonight's council cabinet meeting.
Katy Pugh, chief executive of Age UK Derby and Derbyshire, said the changes could make Carelink unaffordable for people.
She said: "Those who have alarm pendants are likely to also have other similar services, such as doormats which sense whether someone with dementia has left their home or systems which automatically turn gas off.
"This increase may tip the balance so the services they have they can longer afford."
Councillor Fareed Hussain, cabinet member for adults and health, said the authority would "ensure that the safety of Carelink's most vulnerable customers is not compromised by the increase in charges".
A public consultation was carried out on proposed fees that would see individuals receiving Carelink's "emergency response service" charged £4.74 per week, instead of either nothing or £3.95. This found that, of 816 customers who responded, 22.3% said "they could not afford the proposed increase".
Following the consultation, the council has said it would charge £4.61. The council says 1,367 people currently use Carelink free, with about 1,500 paying.
It remained unclear if these figures reflected the true scale of the changes, as the authority was unable to say whether they included people who had Carelink through housing organisations.
The council previously said that users on low incomes would have to pay for it out of their personal budget, which is a sum of money the authority awards them to pay for their care.
It was yesterday unable to say how many housing organisations would be affected by the charges but two, Derwent Living and Metropolitan Housing Trust, have confirmed they are involved.
The increase in fees for the emergency response service would be higher, per individual, per week, for these organisations, with the charge rising from £1.22 to £3.28. Metropolitan said yesterday that it planned to pass on at least some of the increase to service users.
Sharon Guest, Derwent Living's head of housing services, where 300 people living in its nine sheltered housing schemes used Carelink, said: "The increased charge will unfortunately affect some of the most vulnerable people."
The proposed changes would not affect supported living schemes run by Derby Homes.