Sheltered housing shake-up slammed by residents

Accommodation provided by Enfield Council for older residents set to be significantly reduced, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Brenda Pearse and Oliver Dines outside their sheltered housing estate in Galva Close, Cockfosters

Residents have accused Enfield Council of abandoning them over a shake-up that will more than halve the existing sheltered housing units on the authority’s books.

Oliver Dines and Brenda Pearse, who live in Chaddlewood, a sheltered housing block in Galva Close, Cockfosters, slammed the council over changes to the service that will see 482 homes across the borough offered to younger residents as ‘general needs’ housing.

It comes on top of cuts to staffing hours at their housing complex and other changes they claimed could put people’s safety at risk.

Sheltered housing is designed to help older people, usually over the age of 55, to live independently with on-site support. The council has 779 units in Enfield but, under changes that apply to future lettings, just 297 of those will be retained solely for use by older people.

A council spokesperson said some of its sheltered homes “do not meet the latest modern standards for older persons’ housing”. They admitted the council was de-designating some of its sheltered housing, allowing it to be offered to those under the age of 55, but said it hoped to secure more housing “better suited to accommodating the needs of older tenants”.

Oliver said: “[The council] is just abandoning people left, right and centre.

“The lack of transparency is the problem. We didn’t know it was going into general needs until about a fortnight ago. They are doing this without taking any advice from residents, doctors and families.”

Brenda, who chairs the residents’ association, claimed four out of five blocks on the Chaddlewood site would be redesignated as general needs housing. “The rule was [the homes were for] people over 55, but now it can be anybody,” she said. “But we didn’t move here for that – we moved here to get a bit of peace and quiet.”

Oliver claimed that around four years ago, Chaddlewood alone had a waiting list of more than 450 people. He and Brenda also criticised a reduction in staffing hours at their complex. They said two staff used to be on site from 8am or 9am in the morning until 4pm or 5pm, five days per week, until the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now they say there is one person from 8am until 4pm, two days a week.

Oliver warned the staff cuts mean residents are often unable to leave a message on the office answerphone and claimed many people have taken to calling him and Brenda to report problems. Brenda claimed a member of staff was recently unavailable on site for more than four days, which is against the council’s own guidelines stating that people living in sheltered housing are not allowed to go without care for more than three days.

Oliver and Brenda also criticised a move that will see residents have to pay for new alarms, even though they claimed to already pay nearly £27,000 a year in service charges and will face extra costs for TV licences and other services.

They said they believed the coronavirus pandemic was being used as an excuse for cutbacks and claimed many people thought the site would ultimately be sold off to a developer or used by the council for new general housing blocks.

A council spokesperson said: “We have carried out a thorough review of our sheltered housing schemes. Some of our current homes do not meet the latest modern standards for older persons’ housing.

“Examples of this being that some homes are not fully accessible to people with mobility issues, some warden alarm systems need to be replaced with up-to-date technology and, additionally, we have found that we have been providing services that are not required or needed by every resident. We therefore want to introduce more flexible arrangements.

“The council is in the process of de-designating a proportion of its sheltered housing provision, with the long-term strategy of securing future specialist provision better suited to accommodating the needs of older tenants. For example, we will be increasing the amount of affordable extra care housing over the next five years and exploring options such as retirement villages and intergenerational and co-housing models.

“No existing residents will be asked to move and their existing tenancy agreements will remain if they choose to stay. The de-designation will result in the reduction of housing categorised as specialist housing for older people. A total of 297 council-owned specialist housing for older people units will remain across nine schemes.”