Thursday, February 25, 2010

Council retreats on Disabled charges

The City Council appears to be retreating from its plans to charge its tenants with disabled adaptations up to £300 a year for servicing costs.

The issue was raised at East Area committee by one of my constituents, and picked up by the Cambridge Evening News.

I raised a number of issues around this case with the Head of City homes - the lack of consultation with local disability action groups, the issues around affordability - for people who weren't aware of these charges when equipment was installed, but also to try understanding why the costs for what should be simple inspections were so high.

It appears the Council has now had a change of heart, and will be bringing plans back to the Housing Management Board to limit rises for people with existing adaptations to £1pw - but with tenants accepting new adaptations paying the full servicing costs.

At the heart of the problem to my mind is the extraordinary cost of these tests. These reflect the cost paid by the Council - the tests are apparently a legal requirement under Health and Safety legislation, and because housing accounts are ringfenced, if the charges aren't paid by those with the disabled adaptations, they fall across all tenants, so reduce the amounts available for other work on the Council's housing stock. At the last committee, it was revealed the Council spends £200,000 a year testing for Legionnaires Disease, and is about to commit significant funds to fire safety testing, as well as a whole range of new health and safety tests that are included in new government standards (like whether or not a staircase has 'open' steps). You get the impression there is a constant stream of people 'testing' and evaluating health and safety issues. There must be a way of combining some of this work to reduce costs to tenants - yet another reason for my pleas for more openness at the Council around costs of procurement - when such savings would be much easier to identify. It would be interesting to know if the Council's tenants are subject to a degree of monitoring and excessive cost around health and safety far in excess of that applicable to private tenants, and whether a more holistic approach could better reduce overall risks to tenants, whilst saving money.

But in the short run, it looks like a victory for common sense if the new plans are agreed, and tenants with disabled adaptations aren't faced with significant unexpected new charges.

1 comment:

Frugal Dougal said...

We need new policies, not new tests - for example, it would be more pertinent, and probably cheaper, to train a group of healthcare workers to respond to outbreaks of Legionnaires' Disease than checking for it where it probably ain't.