689 clients from High Peak currently receive support to live independently from the community alarm system. 87% of clients across Derbyshire – which would equate to 600 frail and elderly people in High Peak – access these devices at a subsidy due to claiming benefits associated with a low income.
I am therefore extremely concerned about the effects that these additional charges will have on some of my most vulnerable constituents, and on nearly 5,000 frail and elderly people across the county, many of whom will feel unable to afford the charges.
The changes will deliver very small savings but will risk higher numbers of frail people requiring support from social care at a comparatively very high cost.
The proposal will risk more people feeling unable to live independently, or doing so and not being able to access assistance quickly when needed, reducing their safety and quality of life.
The report presented to Cabinet on 8th November 2018 acknowledges that community alarms and telecare services are vital for providing 24-hour monitoring provision for vulnerable adults:
“Community alarms and telecare provision support the wellbeing principle within the Care Act (2014), which highlights the importance of preventative services, within the community and enhancing individuals control over their own lives. Preventative interventions can reduce the need for care and support.”
Para 2.6.5 states that the future aim is: “to explore how the authority develops its assistive technology offer to support older and vulnerable people, to review the range of external contracts in place and to consider buying these services in a more efficient way, giving the Council better value for money.”
However, changing the qualification for these services to exclude frail and elderly people on low-income benefits should not prevent the Council gaining better value for money.
The cost of services ranges between £98 per user in Erewash to £245 in South Derbyshire so if looking to make savings, the Council should surely be looking at disproportionate costs in some areas.
5,703 people are listed as currently using the service across Derbyshire. 87% of them do so on the basis of their entitlement to pension credit or housing benefit. This constitutes almost 5,000 elderly people on low incomes who will need to be assessed for eligibility under the Care Act.
The small cost savings will need to be offset by the cost of assessing whether users are eligible under the Care Act. If a high number of users seek the assessment, it will wipe out any savings.
The High Peak consultation meeting stated that users who are not deemed to be eligible under the Care Act will have to pay either £15 a month maintaining their devices and £30 for the 24-hour monitoring services.
Users on Pension Credit will already on a very low income. The value of Savings Credit has been reduced by over £1,000 a year, and the Guarantee Credit is just £163 per week for a single person or £248.80 for a couple.
Housing Benefit has reduced so tenants have had to start to make up the difference. Sheltered accommodation provided via High Peak costs more than the Local Housing Allowance for Buxton area so even elderly people on the lowest incomes who are entitled to full LHA are having to top up their rent from their very low income.
The difference is £8 per week for a one-bedroom apartment and £15 per week for 2 bedrooms. This is a substantial proportion of a very low income, but these are the very people targeted by this policy to pay £15 or £30 per month – which could well increase if councils raise their prices due to lower participation and higher costs per remaining user.
At the consultation meeting in Buxton on 26th November, a number of elderly residents were worried that they would either not be able to afford the charges, or they would be forced to reduce the amount they spend on heating and food. Surely the Council would not wish to countenance either of these prospects which would be so detrimental to vulnerable people on very low incomes.
Residents at the consultation meeting felt that the free community alarms and the 24-hour monitoring services made them feel safe in their homes and helped them retain their independence. Losing these devices would make these vulnerable people less independent and raises the risk of an accident in the home going undetected.
The consultation justifies these proposals by the £65million in savings needing to be made from the Derbyshire Adult Care budget.
Yet the consultation document states at paragraph 5 that the savings will only total £0.100m (£100,000) in 2019/20 and £0.150m (£150,000) in 2020/21.
Even these savings would be much reduced if significant numbers of service users sought assessment of eligibility under the Care Act, and savings would be wiped out if just 2 or 3 service users ended up needing residential care due to an unattended fall.
Seeking to remove the subsidy for community alarms to almost 5,000 frail and elderly people across Derbyshire will therefore:
- Risk up to 5,000 frail and elderly people on very low incomes ceasing to receive the service, feeling less able to live independently, and risk falling or injuring themselves at home and being unattended for a long period.
- Risk much higher costs to the Council if vulnerable people no longer feel able to afford the alarms and do not feel safe living independently.
- Risk much higher costs to the Council if previous service users are injured more seriously and therefore require more care.
I therefore call on the Council to continue to provide this effective and much-valued service to all current users.
Savings would be better sought by turning off the alarms in properties where they are provided to people who do not require them, and by seeking to align the vastly different costs of the services towards the boroughs which are most cost effective.
NB The consultation document is wrong at paragraph 2.6.2 which states that due to the roll-out of Universal Credit, there will be no legacy benefits. Universal Credit does not apply to people of pensionable age, who constitute 82% of users. Pension Credit is set to continue, and for those who are eligible through Housing Benefit, the criteria could simply be amended to clients in receipt of the housing element of Universal Credit, which directly replaces HB.
Ruth George MP
25 January 2019