Cheshire East OAPs face court action for failing to pay care bills
MORE than £2 million is owed to a council by 901 people for adult care services.
Cheshire East Council is owed the cash because pensioners or their relatives have not paid for their care.
Almost £1 million is owed by customers in Congleton and Crewe for services ranging from full-time residential care to home help.
Now council officers are stepping up enforcement to chase up the debt, some of which dates back years.
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A meeting of the authority's adult social care scrutiny committee will tonight rule on whether to pursue court action.
Pensioners living in care homes could even be forced to sell their former homes in order to meet the payments.
Hugh Emerson, secretary of Crewe and District Pensioners' Association, said the council's approach amounted to "psychological bullying".
He added: "There are quite a lot of people who have these debts and they can't all be rogues trying to cheat the council out of cash. You're talking about people who are struggling with financial pressures. Not just because of the recession, but because older people are struggling anyway.
"The council should focus on chasing up the people who owe council tax, not picking on vulnerable older people who are not going to be able to stand up for themselves.
"To be threatened by the courts and bailiffs will be regarded as a huge disgrace by this generation. It's psychological bullying."
Amounts owed by residents across South Cheshire range from £13 to more than £4,000 – making a total of £2,133,113.
Residents in Crewe owe the most, with 218 people owing £560,547.
Congleton residents accumulated the second largest amount, with 99 people owing £418,710.
Council documents prepared ahead of tonight's meeting reveal the council is considering taking "low level bailiff action".
This could involve letters being sent to residents warning of potential court action.
Meanwhile, in cases where debt reaches £750, council mangers could start proceedings to declare residents bankrupt.
The authority is also considering doing more to chase up relatives of deceased residents to make inquiries regarding their former properties.
A Cheshire East Council spokesman said: "It is important to point out that each person who needs our help is assessed to determine how much they can afford to contribute. It is this contribution that makes up the debt. We do actually collect around 95 per cent of billed income and debt relates to the few not the majority.
"We fully accept these are 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."