Scottish Borders Council has been slammed for nearly doubling its charges for people who rely on a personal alarm system.
The Bordercare personal alarm service, operated by Scottish Borders Council-owned SB Cares, provides a 24-hour immediate response in an emergency for people who are at risk due to age, disability or other factors.
Between 2015 and 2016, excluding VAT, the cost of this service was £2 per week, increasing to a weekly cost of £2.50 the following year.
However, at the start of this month service users received letters informing them of a new £4.50 weekly charge. That increase was approved in February.
Former magician Bob Quilietti, of Gordon, is a user of the service. The 67-year-old, who lives with his wife Joyce, hung up his wand after 20 years of performances in 2007 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
He said: “I fall several times a week because of my Parkinson’s, so the alarm system is really important, it gives me reassurance that I can access help if I hurt myself or get stuck. My wife worries less and she doesn’t have to keep an eye on me all the time.
“I was shocked to see such a large increase in the charges. Over a year, it’ll cost me an extra £125 in fees for an essential service. Lots of people with conditions like Parkinson’s live on very low incomes, so some folk will find it difficult to pay the increased costs.”
User’s complaints have been backed by charity Parkinson’s UK, which has now written to the council as well as local care officials asking them to rethink the charges.
Katherine Crawford, Scotland director for Parkinson’s UK, said: “The Bordercare scheme helps people retain their independence and their confidence, and there is a real risk that the increased costs could lead to people deciding that they can no longer afford this support. That would have a devastating impact on their quality of life. We fear that these charges could lead to much higher NHS and social care costs if people opt out of the scheme.”
The council’s website states that the underlying principles for which its charging policy is based includes a fair charge, meaning that it won’t charge more than the cost of providing the service.
A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said: “The Bordercare personal alarm service was previously charged at a rate which did not reflect the full cost of providing the service. The charge that is now being applied reflects the actual cost of providing the service and we are confident that this represents good value. The increased charges were agreed at the Council meeting held on December 22 and as part of the budget process approved in February 2017.
“A letter has been sent to all clients affected by the changes.
“This also advised them to contact Customer Services on 0300 100 1800 should they need more information or have concerns about not being able to meet the revised charges, as there is a process in place to review the charge for people who may be in this position.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government added: “The Scottish Government has committed to working with local authorities to ensure that there is a fairer and more consistent system of charging. They can also waive or reduce charges in hardship cases based on circumstances.
“While it is a decision for local authorities on what amount they charge for community alarm services, we would encourage them to consider all disability related expenditure to ensure any care charges don’t cause hardship and undermine people’s right to live independently.”