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Fears ‘senseless’ cuts will hit vulnerable people in Norwich’s sheltered housing

PUBLISHED: 08:18 10 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:37 10 August 2017

Older people could suffer because of cuts to support services in sheltered housing, the deputy leader of Norwich City Council has warned. Pic: Nick Butcher

Older people could suffer because of cuts to support services in sheltered housing, the deputy leader of Norwich City Council has warned. Pic: Nick Butcher

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Some of the most vulnerable people in Norwich could suffer because of what the deputy leader of the city council has branded “senseless” cuts to support in sheltered housing.

Age UK Norfolk chief executive Hilary MacDonald. Photo: Bill SmithAge UK Norfolk chief executive Hilary MacDonald. Photo: Bill Smith

City Hall bosses have started visiting the 1,000 people in their 26 sheltered housing schemes about what might have to change because of cuts agreed by Norfolk County Council.

The county council is reducing what it spends on housing support from £10.5m to £4.7m by 2018/19 and that means the city council has £292,500 less to spend.

While the sheltered housing provided by the city council does not have wardens, there is a 24-hour emergency alarm system and a dedicated support worker team to check on people’s welfare.

Gail Harris, deputy leader of Norwich City Council, said it was too early to say what impact the cuts would have.

But she said: “This issue is clearly very sensitive and officers are being careful not to cause alarm.

“These discussions are to explore tenants support needs so that the council can consider how best it can continue to support the residents to live independent, full and active lives.”

She added: “Officers and my cabinet colleagues will continue to lobby Norfolk County Council on the senseless nature of these cuts.”

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “We are increasing the overall amount we spend on adult social services this year from around £1m a day currently.

“However, the demand continues to increase and we have to transform the way we work in communities, so that we are able to ensure those most in need are able to receive the right support,” said a spokesman.

“We are reinvesting £1.3m in a new service, which will provide support for older people wherever they live and general support to prevent homelessness.

We are doing this in conjunction with district councils who currently provide advice and support services for local residents.

“This has meant ceasing to fund sheltered housing support, which provides a different kind of support to residents than that received by people with the same needs, living in their own home.

“Ensuring older people can live in their own homes for longer and promoting their independence is a key priority for the council.

“Housing teams at Norwich City council, know their tenants best, and so they are sharing with us their detailed knowledge and information about the current needs of people affected.

“We appreciate that this might be an unsettling time for residents and we will be working with those that provide housing to ensure that residents continue to receive the help they need via community resources, different services, or by people choosing to pay for a service themselves.”

Saffron Housing Trust, which has 14 sheltered housing schemes in South Norfolk, has promised its tenants their alarm call system will not be lost.

The trust has asked its executive board to provide proposals for a new operating model which would be financially viable

and enable the continuing provision of support, ensuring that residents receive help to continue to live independently and to feel safe in their homes.

Saffron chair Catherine Guelbert-Thick said: “I am pleased to confirm that Saffron’s sheltered housing tenants will not lose their alarm call system - the service that tenants told us they least wished to see withdrawn.

“In May I said that Saffron would be looking for innovative solutions in response to the budget cuts and this will be reflected in the proposals for the new operating model for services which will be considered by the board in the autumn. “Until this has been agreed all of the services tenants currently receive will be unaffected.”

Last month, residents at Woodcote sheltered housing in Hethersett warned there could be “tragic consequences” if services are withdrawn.

Concern has been expressed that the cuts could lead to increased isolation and loneliness among older people.

And Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk, urged older people and their families to make sure they asked questions about what the future held for their sheltered housing services.

She said: “It is important that people ask questions and that they understand what the impact of the changes will be. We are happy for them to contact us at Age UK if they have concerns.”

And she added: “One of our worries about this - and the wider cuts - is that it could lead to loneliness and isolation. With the support which is currently provided, that is a point of contact for somebody, which can make a big difference.

“We are concerned that the cuts across the piece will take away those points of contact - such as wardens and support workers - which could increase loneliness and isolation.”

Questions and answers

These are excerpts from a letter which Norfolk County Council has sent tenants:

Q, What happens at the moment?

A: We currently provide funding to some sheltered housing schemes to help maintain and improve people’s health and wellbeing. The support provided includes things like regular phone calls, welfare checks and help with accessing care support.

Q: Why does my service have to close?

A: To help balance our budget we proposed to reduce the amount we spend on housing related support services, including support provided in sheltered housing.

Q: What will this mean for me?

A: We will stop funding the support that you receive in sheltered housing from the end of February 2018. It is difficult for us to say how this will affect you, as your provider is considering options for the sheltered housing service after we withdraw our funding.

Do you have a story? Call reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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