THIS week, charges for extra care services in some Cheshire West facilities were extended — with the most talked-about fee being a weekly £6 bill for the use of the pull-cord.

The reason why this charge is that residents and ward councillors have questioned the legality of it — with a member of the ruling Labour cabinet’s own group raising the issue at a meeting of the council’s leadership.

Now, one resident has told the LDRS of her disappointment at the decision — although CWAC maintains the charge is on sound legal footing.

What was said at cabinet?

With the item being brought forward for approval by cabinet — those councillors in charge of running various departments — Cllr Martyn Delaney challenged his Labour party colleagues over the move.

He said: “The policy refers to the weekly charge for the pull cord system whether it is needed or not.

“If you look at the Care Act 2014, under assessed needs, you will notice paragraphs 18,19, and 20 are very consistent as [referring] to services to be delivered on need, or assessed need.

“If you read the Government Act, it says that a recipient of discretionary service, which this is, [needs to opt-in]. What is the legal basis for this charge?

“What instrument of law allows for someone to pay for a service they have not asked for?”

In response, Cllr Val Armstrong, who is the borough cabinet member for adult social care and public health, said: “The policy was advised on by our legal officers. It provides a 24 hour on-site response which can be an extremely useful service.”

Cabinet colleague Carol Gahan added: “[Some residents] had issues with Covid with an outbreak [over Christmas] and some of the residents were available to use the pull cords with their apartments so they could summon assistance.”

Why are residents unhappy?

“It is exasperating and frustrating that a council can not actually come up with a lawful explanation. We feel her as we just are being treated like old people who don’t really understand how a council works and operates. That could not be further from the truth. It is astounding to understand that a council can behave like that.”

Angela Heatherington moved into her apartment at Abbotswood, Chester, in 2015. Since then, she has been embroiled in a number of battles with CWAC over some care charges.

On the meeting, she told the LDRS: “Val Armstrong never brought up the paper to this in her initial speech and she never answered it in questions. We are still not getting an explanation. 

“The council should have given us a needs assessment and if they would have done so before moving in everyone is assessed for the care they need and allocated a banding. I do not understand how they can allocate vulnerable places in care for those that do not need it.”

More generally, Angela said that her primary goal was to see the authority ‘behave lawfully’.

She added: “It is up to the council what they want to do — all I want is the council to behave lawfully. No one is saying don’t have a pull cord service. We all want a service for those that want it.

“It is perfectly lawful to bring out a discretionary service but they have not done it lawfully. The letter sent out in February… said it was a discretionary service but then it said ‘what you must do now is fill out the direct debit form’. That is a direct instruction.

“I do not like where they are coming from. I do not understand a council that is desperate to look after people who need care in as economical a way as possible.”

What has Cheshire West said?

In response, a spokesperson for the council said that the pull-cord charge was ‘agreed’ with residents ‘upon moving into the apartments’, adding that this meant the authority believed the charges were legally sound.

The spokesperson’s statement in full: “A charge which covers the emergency pull cord system has been in place for all residents in extra care housing schemes in the borough since 2014. The pull cord facility and response is an intrinsic part of the extra care housing model nationally enabling rapid response to emergency situations to support residents. The wellbeing charge was noted in the documentation provided to Cheshire West residents upon purchase or rental of the apartments.

“The residents agreed to the charges associated with extra care housing, including the wellbeing charge, upon moving into the apartments and the Council determines that this is sufficient to meet the requirements of the Local Government Act 2003 which provides local authorities with the power to charge for such discretionary services.

“The Council undertook an in depth review of extra care housing in the borough and suspended the wellbeing charge for the duration of the review. The proposal to adopt a revised £6 charge reflects a fair and reasonable charge for the wellbeing service, which was subject to full scrutiny and challenge by Cabinet before being agreed in November 2019.”