Cheshire East Council will start to charge residents over the age of 85 for the electronic devices which help older people stay safe and independent at home.
Those over 85 currently receive free assistive technology which includes a range of electronic devices, such as pendant alarms and fall detectors which can support an individual to live independently in their own homes. These function in conjunction with a call centre and mobile response team to monitor individuals.
Members of the Cheshire East Council Adults & Health Committee agreed at their meeting on September 27th to recommission the Assistive Technology
service, which currently has a total user base of 2,254, and revise the charging regime.
The report prepared for the meeting stated that the Assistive Technology service should be funded in full via the Better Care Fund and by client contributions. However, the service has been significantly overspent for the last few years. The overspend on the contract in 2020/21 was £471k.
In order to bring the contract in line with the current budget of £757k per annum, all users will be asked to pay £5 per week and those who are unable to pay will receive free assistive technology.
Members voted by ten for and three against adopting the policy that people aged 85 and over who are living alone are charged £5 per week for the Assistive Technology service, which is the same levy as for all other users of Assistive Technology.
Councillor Arthur Moran, who proposed the motion, said "The new system which is recommended with the charge that we are putting in is much fairer. Why should it be that an 85 year old person living on their own in the better off parts of the borough and yet somebody else 84 living in the less well off parts of the borough, in some of the deprived areas, at this present that would be paying so I think that's where it becomes much fairer."
Councillor Janet Clowes said "There are 12,300 people aged 85 and above in the borough, 43% of which are estimated to fall each year. It doesn't tell how many of those are living alone but I expect they are over represented.
"You only need about 30 people to fall, have a hospital admission and to be sent to long-term care to actually rack-up about £1 million - four times the amount it's intended to save through this particular proposal.
She added "To say that it is unfair is extraordinarily naive."
"We will end up paying far more for these people, which will actually direct resource away from those people who are not 85 living alone in poorer parts of the borough who desperately need that money for their social care. And I would remind everybody if you are under 85 and genuinely can't afford it you can already get it free of charge."
Councillor Stewart Gardiner said "I think we are being particularly shortsighted because we have to remember as Councillor Clowes has said that people once they fall aged 85 plus they are more likely to spend more time in hospital.
"But the other issue to remember is that this has come about from the Better Care Fund and the purpose of the Better Care Fund is to help local authorities and care providers to come up with ways to reduce hospitalisation.
"If you are over 85 and live in Wilmslow, or over 85 and live in Crewe you will still have to go to hospital that's funded from the National Health Service and the purpose of this scheme is to reduce the pressure on the NHS by reducing the number of people who have to go into hospital."
Cllr Kathryn Flavell said "This really is at the moment is a case of age discrimination and what we should be doing is assessing people on their ability to pay, not their age.
She added "If people are on benefits they won't pay, that's the point. It will still be means tested and people who cannot pay will not pay which is a much fairer system."
"It isn't fair that someone age 65 who is in real difficulties and has disabilities and low income has to pay for something that someone who is 85 who is wealthy doesn't pay. This should be assessed on people's ability to pay, not their age."
Councillor Carol Bulman said "At first reaction taking something away from the over 85s sounds mean but when you think about it a little more deeply it is a great service, it was a great idea, is still a great idea but it has to be sustainable.
"We talked earlier about the increase in choice, the new technology that's going to be available. We want to provide a really good service on this and we are still at £5 it's still cheaper than any other authority. It's a very cheap, good offer. In some ways it's a bit patronising to say to somebody you are over 85 so you can't afford to pay."
She added "Some of the youngest users will be 19 years old, they're not wealthy."
"I don't think it's possible to argue this is not fair. It is the fairest method. Some might say it is fair but it's a bit harsh. No I don't think it is, there will be assessment."