Elderly and disabled St Albans council tenants face gardening charges
ELDERLY and vulnerable council tenants across the district have been outraged by a decision to make them pay for garden upkeep. As revealed by the Herts Advertiser in November, the district council is going to charge for the service as part of a shake-up
ELDERLY and vulnerable council tenants across the district have been outraged by a decision to make them pay for garden upkeep.
As revealed by the Herts Advertiser in November, the district council is going to charge for the service as part of a shake-up of council house incentives designed to bring the system in line with housing associations and to encourage people to move into smaller properties.
Other incentives which will be withdrawn are a decorating service for over-60s and a reward payment for council tenants of over 50 years, which will be replaced with a card from the Mayor.
The gardening service is currently offered free to nearly 600 council tenants living alone who are unable to maintain their garden, and who are over 60 or suffering from a disability.
But from April, the criteria will change to those over 65 and the council will start charging for the service. Current users who are eligible will have to pay 50 per cent of the cost - �2.16 a week or �216 annually - and then the full amount from April 2011.
New users will be charged the full amount, which is �4.32 a week, from this year.
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The service will also only be offered to those over 65 or with a disability, and they have been sent a letter asking whether they want to opt in or out of the scheme.
But it has caused anger among many council house tenants reliant on the service including Margaret Fensome, 63, who has lost the use of her right side and lives in one of 12 warden-controlled bungalows in Nuns Lane in St Albans.
She was made redundant from her job of 48 years with engineering firm Cam Profiles Limited in June and is having to get by on a state pension so she will struggle to pay the charges.
Miss Fensome said: "A lot of us are upset about it as you absolutely would be when you have more to pay when you know you haven't got the money to pay it. It's come out of the blue. It just seems crazy to me, going after the old age pensioners."
She continued: "I know it's very difficult for the council, I'm not daft and I know there's a recession on - that's why I haven't got a job - but I think the charges are a bit dear."
Miss Fensome said that she and her neighbours were probably going to opt into this year's scheme, but would try to find an independent gardener in 2011.
Another person with concerns is Jenny Norris, whose 82-year-old mother lives in council accommodation in St Albans which has a tiny 6ft by 12ft garden.
She said: "My mum has declined to pay as she has children who will do it, but there are people out there that haven't got family and I think it's appalling to treat elderly citizens this way."
Mrs Norris added: "It's taking liberties, how can they charge an old age pensioner that sort of money for cutting a piece of grass that's practically non existent? It makes me cross, she has paid for her house 10-fold over the years and she has never ever been in arrears."
Head of housing at the district council, Karen Dragovic, said that the service cost the council nearly �130,000 between 2008 and 2009.
She said the charge was being brought in to allocate housing resources more fairly and to bring the system in line with equivalent services offered by social landlords.
Ms Dragovic added: "We are not forcing any tenants unable to maintain their gardens to move. However, transfer to an alternative property with no garden or with a communal garden maintained by contractors is an option that is available to tenants if they wish.