Babergh insisted sheltered housing schemes ‘were not care homes’ as it faced concerned residents and families ahead of a decision over changes to the schemes.
The district council is proposing to remove the sheltered status from some schemes including First Avenue in Sudbury, while others will see their scheme manager shared between two or three sites, increasing during periods of staff absence.
However, at a packed meeting room at Playford Court sheltered housing scheme in Sudbury on Monday night, it was announced that due to concerns raised during a public consultation, a caveat had been added that existing residents in ‘de-sheltered’ schemes could request a visiting service for an additional charge.
Already all residents in sheltered schemes pay for this service, regardless of whether they sign a waver saying they need it or not.
Pull chord alarm systems will also be removed in these schemes but again can be replaced for an additional charge.
In a meeting with the Free Press last month Alan Ferguson, Babergh portfolio holder for housing delivery, said the door was not closed on financial assistance being given to residents who wished to move to a scheme where sheltered status would remain.
However on Monday Martin King, assistant director of housing at Babergh and Mid Suffolk, said that the current proposals did not include provision for this support.
During the meeting residents and families from across the district said there was a need for more care and not less.
But Mr King said these sites were not care homes.
“The manager doesn’t provide care but support.
“Sheltered housing is about enabling people to live independently. It is not a care home.
“The amount you pay towards your scheme manager doesn’t even cover half the day. Babergh subsidises that.”
Citing budget restraints, including the likely loss of grant support from the county council, he added: “Babergh isn’t in the position to continue this. The only way we can increase care is for costs to go up.”
A lady responded by saying: “You are going to see people coming in with more needs not less as there isn’t the homes they need. People need more support not less. “There isn’t anywhere else for them to go.”
In reply Mr King said there was shortages in some areas but a surplus of properties in others.
It was suggested then that the council should close those schemes that are unpopular, which Mr King explained was exactly what Babergh was looking to do.
There was criticism of the way the consultation had been handled, with meeting organiser and chair Vicky Stebbings suggesting many residents were unable to fully understand the implications of the proposals or to give feedback in the consultation.
Equally there were complaints that Heather Sparrow corporate manager for supported living had failed to reply to correspondence from those concerned about the changes.
Babergh district councillors for Sudbury Jan Osborne and David Holland attended the meeting with Mr King.
Mrs Osborne said she attended to represent all residents in Sudbury but said the review was necessary.
“There’s no way any of the changes will put anyone at risk.
“From the consultation it’s very clear that quite a few people had signed the waver that they didn’t need the manager visits and yet they were having to pay for it.”
She added that for those asking for new alarms fitted in those sites being de-sheltered would find them to be more fit for purpose.
The current alarms were criticised by residents at Playford Court.
During the meeting ‘very sheltered’, a service offering a higher level of support, was mentioned several times, with this service also about to undergo a review.
However Mrs Stebbings said this should have been done in advance of the sheltered housing review.
Mr Holland agreed there was clearly a need for sheltered housing and housing as a whole but said there were sites that were not fit for purpose and that needed major renovations.
He included First Avenue, highlighting the concrete steps and open balconies.
The proposals will next be heard at a private and confidential meeting by the Babergh and Mid Suffolk joint housing board on Monday before going to Babergh’s strategy committee in December.
Mrs Osborne said she and other councillors were hoping to ensure that at least part of this meeting would be open to the public.