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Shelter housing residents sound the alarm on careline changes in Ealing saying ‘it will get people killed’

Vulnerable and elderly residents across Ealing have raised concerns about the council’s decision to end Careline services, saying it will ‘get people killed’. Residents at Walnut Court said that they were shocked and terrified after receiving letters telling them that the council would be ending the service which is used to alert emergency services to issues going on inside sheltered homes.

Rosanne Wilson, a Walnut Court of over 10 years, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Careline saved her life after suffering a heart attack. “This was supposed to be a consultation and then they would do this but what we actually got is a piece of paper saying, this is what’s happening.

“When you are dealing with sheltered housing you are dealing with older people, some of us have better movement than others but it really is a case of someone is going to die if they take this thing away. Someone is going to fall down in their flat, someone is going to fall down in the corridor and there is no cord to pull.

“This thing saved my life, so it’s imperative that we keep this thing. I had a heart attack and they came and got me. I think they were here within five to six minutes, first the motorbike then the ambulance. The council properly thinks [they can do this] ’cause we are a small percentage of the population and we won’t complain but this really is a matter of life and death.”

Careline currently covers the whole of Walnut Court and other sheltered housing sites like it. Pull cords are in every apartment, along corridors, in toilets and in communal areas. The council has said it will end its contract with Careline on April 1 due to increasing costs, rendering all that infrastructure useless. It is a scary prospect for many including Mary Pio, who wears a pendant which can be carried around anywhere and can be pressed to alert Careline to an issue anywhere onsite.

Shelter housing residents sound the alarm on careline changes in Ealing saying 'it will get people killed' Harrow Online
Careline pull cord and phone box. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett

Mary says the suddenness of the decision has left her worried: “I wear a pendant. I think most of the people in this room have worn one. We don’t really like what the council is doing. It’s not just getting rid of the service, it’s not giving us any notice.”

In a letter sent to residents, the council says they will have to find their own individual alternatives. It offers recommendations for these alternate services and informs residents that they will receive a £4.49 rent reduction which it anticipates “will enable you to purchase the service from a new provider”.

However due to start-up payments, including installing new phone boxes and pull cords as well as ongoing monthly costs residents say that making the switch will be more costly. The news has sparked anxiety in a lot of the sheltered housing’s more vulnerable residents.

“They have literally only given us weeks to make other arrangements,” says Caramel Lacey, who uses crutches to walk. “We are older, we are slow, so some of us will struggle to find them in time. I have been on crutches for three years so if I fall over I will definitely need something like [Careline]. I am disabled now. Having it there gives me peace of mind. I will need it definitely.”

She said the offer of money off their rent is not an adequate alternative saying “it’s not the money, it’s the service itself”, adding: “Without Careline what makes this sheltered housing?”

At a meeting attended by the LDRS, after a show of hands the 30 or so gathered residents said they would happily pay the £4.49 or even a little bit more to keep the current service. The boxes in people’s flats are not just connected to ambulance services but also the fire brigade.

Shelter housing residents sound the alarm on careline changes in Ealing saying 'it will get people killed' Harrow Online
Walnut Court residents, Ealing. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett

Calls are made automatically to residents if the service detects elevated levels of smoke to check everyone is okay. Henry Smith says that this service has been invaluable, adding that this aspect of the service had prevented a fire from spreading to the whole building a few years ago after one of the flats went up in flames.

He is more frustrated than most with the council over the decision. As the chair of the Committee for Action in Sheltered Housing (CASH), he says he was expecting a consultation with residents. “I’m a bit p***ed off”, he told LDRS. “The council has not spoken to residents.

“They are slowly turning sheltered housing into social housing. We used to have a housing officer in every day, now you are lucky if you see them on an afternoon.”

There is a sense that when most of the residents moved into the sheltered housing 10-15 years ago, they did so with the understanding that they would receive certain services and support. However, over the past decade, these services have been eroded out from under them, they say.

Sheltered housing falls under the umbrella of social housing but is intended for people over the age of 55. This means that sheltered housing often comes with amenities and features intended specifically for elderly and vulnerable people that are not necessarily associated with other types of social housing.

Shirley Southgate says she and her husband moved into sheltered housing on the basis that they would get the support they require. “My doctor recommended me and my husband come here because of ill health. We thought we would be safe and that. We won’t be safe now with no Careline.”

With dwindling assistance from Ealing Council, many fear the next steps may be to turn Walnut Court and other sheltered housing blocks into social housing, following the trend of other councils across London. Henry estimates that around 1,000 of Ealing’s most vulnerable people will be affected by the change putting their lives at risk.

A council spokesperson said: “Ensuring that residents continue to receive the care they need is a top priority for us.

“We made the difficult decision to close Careline as a result of concerns about the council’s ability to deliver the service to the standards our residents deserve and expect.

“Careline is also heavily subsidised by the council. Given the significant pressures on council budgets, we simply cannot afford to continue to do this. As a non-statutory service, it must be financially self-sufficient to be viable. Modernising the service to make it fully digital and fit for the future would also require a significant additional investment.

“We are now talking and listening to residents about the changes and have supplied them with a range of alternative Telecare Services Authority-accredited providers in both the public and private sectors who they can switch to if they want to continue using a telephone care service. All of our sheltered tenants will get the help they need to ensure any handover to a new supplier is as seamless as possible.”