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Council threatens to take people to court over care bills

Pensioners and disabled people could be dragged into court for failing to pay care bills as part of a crackdown by the council.

Pensioners and disabled people could be dragged into court for failing to pay care bills as part of a crackdown by the council.

More than £2m is owed to Cheshire East council by 900 people.

It includes £300,000 from 163 people in Macclesfield for services ranging from home help to residential care. A further £25,000 is owed by 14 residents from Poynton. Officers are even chasing a debt of 6p from someone in Disley.

The authority’s adult social care scrutiny committee last week agreed a plan to use all its powers to claw back the debt. These could include taking residents or relatives to court, declaring them bankrupt or even forcing pensioners living in care homes to sell their homes.

The council said the move was necessary as it was facing a £21m budget deficit over the next two years.

But a charity which campaigns for the rights of the elderly in Macclesfield warned against using ‘heavy-handed’ tactics.

Madelyn Bridge, chief executive of Age UK Cheshire East, said: "Many of the 900 people facing court proceedings will be older people coping with age-related illnesses and we are concerned that their health and personal circumstances may be made much worse if heavy-handed tactics are employed.

"No one should be in this distressing situation with so much free guidance available locally."

Mrs Bridge also questioned the logic of chasing small debts.

She said: "On average, the £2m care debt amounts to just over £2,200 per case, but we understand that people could face court for as little as 6p.

"Surely the cost of recovering such small amounts of money does not make economic sense?

"On the other side of the scale, we would also like to know why the council, with its duty of care, allowed the debts to grow so large before taking any action."

A council spokesman said: "We fully accept that these are the some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we work closely and sensitively with residents to manage their payments. It is also important to point out that we have never enforced the sale of a resident’s property in lieu of payment and this would be an absolute last resort.

"However, we feel that it is not fair that some people are not paying their fair share when it comes to their care. The measures in the report seek to address this."

Residents who need council help are assessed to determine how much they can afford to contribute. The council has only six years to chase a debt before it it is forced by law to write it off.

 
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