WARDEN cover at sheltered housing schemes in Dacorum has been slashed back under cost-cutting measures.
The number of wardens has been axed by six and those remaining offer a ‘floating’ service with each having responsibility for a number of schemes.
At the same time the borough’s sheltered housing population of 1,923 has been divided according to level of need and around a third have had personal visits replaced with telephone contact.
These residents also carry out their own checks on safety alarms when previously this would have been done for them, though the charges they pay have been reduced accordingly.
The Conservative administration has also decided to phase out the out-of-hours service, which involves wardens being on duty overnight to visit people when an alarm is triggered.
The service costs £21,940 a year and there were 501 calls to it in the year to September 2010.
A report to councillors says: “The service is duplicatory, creates a culture of dependency and is, arguably, unnecessary.”
The plans proved highly controversial when they were unveiled last October, with opposition councillors warning of ‘abolishing sheltered housing’ and raising fears the elderly would become isolated.
In March it was decided to press ahead with the measures, which came into effect in June, but a watchdog committee will conduct a review six months after implementation.
However, while the move will save £90,000, this will still not be enough to fill a hole in the budget caused by a cut in funding for sheltered housing from Herts County Council.
As a result, Dacorum Borough Council is pumping £44,000 into the service this year.
A report to councillors warns: “The changes proposed in the report will generate efficiencies but these are not sufficient to meet all of the grant reductions and increases in expenditure envisaged. For future years, further efficiencies will need to be generated.”
Under the changes Age Concern Dacorum will be extending its handyperson scheme to sheltered housing tenants for free.
Andy Vincent, group manager for tenants and leaseholders at the council, said: “Due to the reduction in funding from Herts County Council for the supported housing service, Dacorum Borough Council is investing an additional £44,000 per year in the service to maintain the level of service provided to residents.”
The possibility of setting up a social enterprise to run sheltered housing support services is being investigated.