AROUND 900 residents must start paying more towards their community social care from next spring although the cost of Meals on Wheels will not go up, councillors said.
Recipients of home care already chip in for this service but from April 1 2012 those using respite, transport or day care will have to subsidise these services on a pro-rata basis based on the amount of savings and assets they hold above £14,250. In addition, the £250-a-week cap on contributions will be removed.
Avani Modasia, chief executive at Age UK Harrow, said: "The contributions policy had a mixed response from people. Those who receive free community transport didn't want to pay and those who can't get a place, and have to pay out of their own pocket, said: 'Yes, there should be a fairer, means-tested system.'
"There was some anger from older people who had saved carefully over the years and had savings at a certain level and felt they were being penalised while those who hadn't saved, were getting care for free."
Angela Dias, chief executive of Harrow Association of Disabled People (HAD), said: "Although it would be difficult for HAD to back any reductions in services for disabled people, we do feel that people had a real chance to have their say and that real attempts are being made to take into account the viewpoints of participants in the final decision-making."
Harrow Council's portfolio holder for social care, Councillor Margaret Davine (Labour), said: "We needed to make sure the services themselves are sustainable. Nobody will have services taken away and residents will only be asked to pay if they can afford to, and nobody who already pays will have to pay for more than the cost of their own care, so there's no cross-subsidy of other people."
Paul Najsarek, the council's corporate director of adults and housing, said: "Our assumptions are that close to half of the people who use our services won't make any contribution because they have enough income.
"We estimate 900 service users will pay a little bit more, because they already pay for home care, or will pay for the very first time. The bulk of them will be new payers."
Ms Davine said: "Most of the recommendations we have had to change or adapt have been because of the feedback from people who came to the meetings, talked to us or sent in their feedback forms.
"We're not going to increase the cost of Meals of Wheels and the reason is two-fold. Firstly, people that receive Meals on Wheels told us how highly they value the service.
"We are one of the highest charges in London and people didn't think it was appropriate for it to go up any more, and we listened to that.
"Secondly, there were problems with discrimination on grounds of religion."
In excess of 7,000 people were asked their views on a range of social care plans during an exhaustive 10-month consultation.
"One of things we got a really strong reaction to was back-dating contributions," said Ms Davine.
"The steering group told us it was unfair and people would be worried about it.
"We've looked at introducing a really speedy assessment, and getting extra staff in, and we'll be able to do it all by March."
Labour therefore shelved a proposal to backdate any new contributions due from social care users and instead everyone will have their needs and finances assessed in time for the new 'graduated tariff' to come into effect on April 1 next year.
More social care recipients will encouraged to use public transport independently to reduce reliance on the council providing lifts to and from day centres.
Meanwhile, applicants for all or any of the national Freedom Pass for the over-60s, the discretionary Freedom Pass for the disabled, a disabled blue parking badge or a Taxi Card will undergo a single assessment that, as far as the five-year discretionary pass is concerned, will cut by roughly half the 1,888 residents with one thanks to new, more stringent criteria.
If they are found no longer eligible under the revised guidelines, they will be given a grace period of until March 31 2012 before surrendering the pass.
Council leader and finance portfolio holder Councillor Bill Stephenson (Labour) said: "We think it's fair. Before we had very lax criteria."
Paul Najsarek, the council's corporate director of adults and housing, said the authority's aim at the outset was to save £1million and that the changes proposed will cut spending by £850,000. "We have support [from the public] for the bulk of the savings," he said.
The council's cabinet committee is expected to approve the social care policy changes on Tuesday.
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