Thursday 27 June 2019

Dangerous to change senior alert scheme

At a recent community garda information meeting in Kanturk, the issue of proposed changes to the Senior Alert Scheme was raised by concerned community and voluntary groups in the area.

The Senior Alert Scheme provides financial support to community alert groups to purchase alarms so in the event of an accident or a break in, elderly and vulnerable people can have access to supports immediately through a special monitoring service. This service has proven vital to the most vulnerable in our society.

I fear that the decision to move the Senior Alert Scheme from the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government to Pobal will have a severe detrimental impact on community alert groups, the beneficiaries of the systems (the elderly) and the existing companies operating within the marketplace.

The whole objective of the Senior Alert Scheme, which dates back to the 1990s, was to help the elderly living alone and to promote community involvement in the scheme through Community Alert Groups. Currently, community alert volunteers liaise with the elderly within their communities, they make grant applications for the provision of monitored alarms and the community alert group will purchase the monitors from a reputable company and members of the local community alert groups will then install the monitor, free of charge.

Under the proposed move by Pobal, the community alert group will no longer be allowed decide where to purchase the alarm, instead, the decision will be made by Pobal.

Community alert groups have become familiar with the reputable companies providing Socially Monitored Alarms and are aware of companies who perhaps offer poor customer service. Furthermore, installation, monitoring and upkeep of the Senior Community Alarm is provided free of charge by local community alert groups. Under the Government's new proposal, the alarms will be installed by the private company who get the contract, thus allowing strangers to come into the homes of the elderly. This will undoubtedly lead to some thieves posing as installers, leading to more elderly people at risk of break-ins. We have always advise our senior citizens NOT to open their doors to strangers and here Pobal is now encouraging it.

The new proposed tender will result in what seems to be a lowering of standards from the present model. I have been advised that the tender also includes:

l In the new monitors, there will be a max battery life of 8 hours compared to 24 in the present alarms.

l The current annual monitoring charge of €66 - €80 will now go to €35 per month (€420 annually) - an increase of between 500% and 650%.

l There will be a charge for replacement of alarms, which is currently free to the senior citizen

l The range of the alarm will be reduced from an average of 100m in the current alarms to 50 metres.

In my view, if any of the proposed changes are implemented, it will have a devastating impact on the older person in the rural community and senior citizens will simply not avail of the system as they will not trust strangers to come into their homes to install the monitors. The result would be elderly people living in constant fear of criminals.

Furthermore, no consultation on the proposed changes with seems to have taken place with community alert groups or Muintir Na Tire, which the community alert groups are affiliated to. Why not?

This is an unnecessary burden on the older person, many of whom are struggling from a financial perspective. Furthermore, this will have a detrimental knock-on effect on the industry as a whole, because many elderly people will no longer be able to afford the monitoring charges and will cancel their systems.

The changes proposed to the seniors' alert scheme will have a terrible affect if implemented and it will put people's lives at risk. It will remove community volunteers from the decision making process, a contradiction to the purpose of the scheme.

I am glad that a motion by my Independent colleague Cllr Declan Hurley (West Cork) discussed at this week's full council meeting of Cork County Council calling on the Minister for Environment, Community & Local Government Alan Kelly to reverse his decision on the centralisation of this scheme to Pobal was unanimously supported by all 55 members of Cork County Council. Let's hope the Minister listens to the voice of the people of Cork, and in particular our elderly!

The Senior Alert Scheme works so why change it? Cllr John Paul O'Shea argues against the current proposals.