Community alarm charge will be introduced in October, says North Lanarkshire Council

Community alarm users in North Lanarkshire will have to begin paying for the service following a delay due to coronavirus.

When a community alarm is activated, a signal is sent via telephone to a response centre, which is staffed 24 hours a day. An adviser will then find out what kind of assistance is required, such as contacting emergency services, asking a family member to visit or simply providing reassurance.

The decision to introduce charges of £3.40 a week, charged every month, was initially approved as part of the council’s budget-setting process in February but was postponed in March due to the impact of lockdown. However, the council has now sent letters to all service users advising them that the charges will be reinstated next month.

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North Lanarkshire was one of only two Scottish Councils to not already charge for community alarms.

Since the council wrote to alarm users, it has received 1,388 queries with 891 people choosing to stop their service. Of these, almost half had never used their community alarm.

While giving a report to the council’s Adult Health and Social Care committee, chief officer Ross McGuffie told councllors: “For people who are feeling that they are unable to pay for it we will undertake an individual assessment of each one as part of that process.”

Councillor Colin Cameron requested confirmation that the charges were per household and not per individual using the service, and this was given.

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Councillor Claire Barclay sought reassurance that alarm users, who are more likely to be shielding, would not be allowed to fall into a social serices “gap” where they have lost their alarms and if there were other things that could be put in place to ensure people could stay in their own homes.

Convener, Councillor Tommy Morgan replied: “None of us want to be here, but financially this one was forced on to us. It was a difficult one that we took earlier in the year and it is a budget decision. The staffing and suitability of the system is dependent on getting revenue in on this,” before saying he would seek clarification and ensure “nobody slips through the grille”.

Mr McGuffie said the distribution of community alarms had previously been carried out on basis of age rather than need.

Therefore, he stated that there are a considerable number of alarms which have never been used.

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The committee will consider a follow-up report on developments in a few months.

However, there continues to be dissent in regard to this decision from the Conservatives on the council.

Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig Councillor Nathan Wilson said: “The information presented to elected members as part of the budget setting process in the early part of this year highlighted that a £3.40 charge could result in 15 percent of service users handing their alarms back to the council.

“According to this modelling, the number of people with a community alarm in North Lanarkshire is expected to fall dramatically by well over 1000 service users. We do not think the risk should be taken that such a significant number of vulnerable and elderly people in the council area could remove themselves from this potentially life-saving service.

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“North Lanarkshire Conservatives welcomed the council’s decision to delay the implementation of the policy in the months after the coronavirus emerged but we also want the community alarm charge scrapped altogether.”

Anyone with queries about the alarms or to discontinue their service should call the helpline on 01698 403 278.

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