VULNERABLE elderly residents have been “short-changed” over controversial plans to cut warden hours at sheltered housing schemes, an angry relative has claimed.

VULNERABLE elderly residents have been “short-changed” over controversial plans to cut warden hours at sheltered housing schemes, an angry relative has claimed.

Frail pensioners living in 15 complexes across west Suffolk face losing their round-the-clock cover when proposals for an alternative out-of-hours alarm system are considered next month.

But replacing the current 24-hour arrangements could leave residents feeling unsafe and will represent “an obviously concerning” reduction in the quality of service, charity leaders have warned.

However, officials from Havebury Housing Partnership, which runs the schemes across Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill and in the surrounding villages, say their hand has been forced by European laws on working hours, adding alternative provision would be as “prompt and effective” as possible.

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But Rachel Wilson, whose mother has spent six years at Autumn Close in Barrow, near Bury - one of the sites included in the review - said the plans had left residents upset and villagers furious.

“We were very concerned to first hear of this, because the whole ethos of Autumn Close is that there was a warden to look after the interests of the residents,” she said.

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“There is a lot of strength of feeling in the village, and the residents are very unhappy. They are vulnerable and they need somebody to fight their corner.

“I, along with other relatives of residents, just feel they are being short-changed. This year especially there is so much emphasis being placed on the debt we owe this generation, and it beggars belief that we can treat them so shabbily.”

Under the plans, scheme managers will work during office hours, while an alarm system connected to a control room, from where operators can contact emergency services or relatives if help is needed, will fill all other times.

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said the switch from 24-hour cover had now become the national trend, but still described the proposals as “very worrying”.

She said: “This has already happened with other sheltered housing providers, which have now moved from what really is the best quality service, with somebody reasonably local on call 24-hours-a-day.

“It is very worrying and a sad fact of life. People obviously feel more insecure if they know they cannot get in touch with somebody local. It is a nice little extra to have somebody you already know helping in an emergency.

“The sad thing is that people move into a scheme, hoping it will be a home for life, on the basis of what they know about it. People see this kind of cover and think it is great, and move in because of it - then it changes.

“Obviously this is concerning as it is a reduction in the quality of the service, but Havebury has carried on the 24-hour cover for longer than many other providers.”

David Hall, director of finance at Havebury, said the proposed changes would be phased in over a period of several years, if approved at a meeting in November.

He said pressure on the Government funding provided to support older people was likely to increase over future years, resulting in the need to reduce costs.

The possibility of cutting the warden service was also prompted by the European Working Time Directive, which meant managers could no longer be on call 24-hours-a-day, added Mr Hall.

“This is part of the reason we have to look at changing, and have out-of-hours cover through the alarm service,” he said.

“If a resident calls the alarm, the emergency services or a relative may be contacted, depending on the description of the problem.

“The intention is that this will be prompt, and we are looking at providers at the moment to ensure this is as effective as possible.

“We are conducting a pilot at a small number of schemes at the moment to see how well it works as part of the consultation.

“The board will then look at the outcome and consultation responses before making a decision in November.”

Mr Hall stressed Havebury made no profit from providing its housing, and said in an “ideal world” the warden scheme would remain unchanged.

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