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 social monitoring 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 every community in North Cork and throughout Ireland and especially to those most vulnerable in our society.
The decision to move the Senior Alert Scheme from the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government to Pobal is proposed to 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 1990’s 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 members within their communities, they make grant applications for the provision of Socially 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 to decide what company they want to purchase the alarm from. This decision will be made by Pobal thus removing the decision making process from the community volunteers. Community alert groups over many years 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 which is provided free of charge by local community alert groups, under the Government’s new proposal, the new 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 to break in’s. 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 a lowering of standards from the present model and technical specifications in the tender do not adhere to European industry standards for Social Alarms (EN50134/3:2012). I have also been advised that the tender also includes:
- In the new monitors, there will be a max battery life of 8 hours compare to 24 in the present alarms.
- The monitoring charge of presently (€66 to €80 depending on monitoring company) annually will now go to €35 per month (€420 annually) – an increase of between 500% and 650%
- There will be a charge for replacement of alarms which is currently free to the senior citizen
- The covering range of the alarm to the senior citizen’s house will be reduced from an average of 100m in the current alarms to 50 metres.
In my view, if any of the proposed changes will be implemented, it will have a devastating impact on the older person in the rural community. Senior Citizens will simply not avail of the system under the new proposal as they will not trust strangers to come into their house to install the monitors under the new system. Therefore the older person will be constantly living in fear of the criminal, rebutting what Community Alert Groups were actually set up to do over 20 years ago.
Furthermore, no consultation with community alert groups have taken place on this change. Also, no consultation has been done with Muintir Na Tire, which the community alert groups are affiliated to. Why not?? What are Pobal and the Government afraid of??
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 for the unnecessary lowering of standards. 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 TD 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 now to the voice of the people of Cork, and in particular our elderly!