The Daily Telegraph, on 17th of this month in the print edition, had an article (no link) headlined "Inquiry into home care of the elderly" which dealt with the fact that Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, will begin an inquiry, in the Autumn, into fears of malnutrition due to the preparation of insufficient or poor quality meals, coupled with the subject of concerns that some elderly are being subjected to 'inappropriate restraints' either physical or through the use of drugs.
The DT report, by Christopher Hope, continues: "Official figures show that there are currently 340,000 elderly people being cared for in their homes by council staff. There are concerns that, to save money, councils will cut back on care at home services, which they are not required by the government to provide. A source at the commission said: "There is a considerable body of evidence of breaches of human rights, such as the right to live free from inhuman and degrading treatment as well as the right to private and family life." The report continues: "A spokesman would not comment on specific plans, but said that "a human rights approach to the provision of care can bring about significant improvements in people's lives, and how we ensure that local authorities provide proper care for old people is of particular, and growing, concern to the commission. The commission has recently written to the Treasury and met finance directors of government departments reminding them of their duty to protect vulnerable people when making spending decisions and we will continue to monitor how these decisions are made to ensure that people are not treated unfairly."
An interesting report and it is unfortunate that the Daily Telegraph did not make this available on-line, nor publicise it further by widening the area about which the report deals - but then again we are only highlighting how journalism today only repeats the contents of what are put in front of them by way of press releases etc. Of course the word 'care' can also be applied to areas such as finance, respect, dignity, protection in law, choice and abuse. In fact the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 contains specific provisions where vulnerable people are concerned and perhaps the EHRC need to widen the remit of their investigation.
One of the designations of vulnerable people contained in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 are those living in Sheltered Housing. These are units, managed by Housing Associations, designed to allow older people to lead an independent life, whilst having the benefit of a Warden, the security of an alarm system and benefits such as a communal lounge, laundry and garden. All housing associations are 'governed' by the Tenant Services Authority (TSA) which replaced the Housing Corporation. Look at any housing association website and you will probably find a section that states the particular housing association has the welfare of tenants at heart, is committed to listening to residents - or similar phrases. But are they?
Any landlord, be they state or private, is supposed to comply with the provisions of the Housing Act 1988 and the Tenant & Landlord Act 1985. These two Acts lay down specific provisions and procedures that must be followed when setting rents and service charges. It is also a requirement that residents are 'consulted' when changes are proposed that affect the life of the residents. If only that happened!
Having concluded a meeting with a Housing Association (which shall remain nameless) they conceded that errors had been made in attempting to impose a rent increase without following statutory procedures; that they had attempted to impose a service charge increase, the consultation process of which had not been concluded coupled with the fact that due to the previous RSL failing to follow certain statutory procedures on what repairs they had done the charges could not be on-passed and were limited to £100 per tenant; that tenants had the right to designate anyone they chose to speak on their behalf in matters where the tenant had no knowledge - something they had previously not accepted; that 'Supporting People' payments cannot be included in rent statements and that where there is a change of landlord any new landlord cannot include arrears incurred with the old landlord and classify them as rent arrears and that such arrears must be treated as a simple monetary debt - in other words previous rent arrears cannot be used as a basis on which to apply to a court for an eviction notice.
Now it must be made plain that the Housing Association in question is not being accused of deliberately misleading tenants as there are other factors to be taken into consideration (details of which need not be explained here) but the point remains that tenants were being put in a position, through receiving regular rent statements showing them to be in 'arrears', which caused undue stress and anxiety. Under provisions of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, Articles 2, 3, & 8, of the Human Rights Act and Section 5 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 it could be held an abuse of a vulnerable group had occurred on a number of levels.
The majority of tenants in sheltered housing are in their 70s, 80 and even 90s. They do not have the knowledge to know whether information presented to them is correct; they do not have the knowledge nor capacity to complain; because of their upbringing it is not in their nature to complain. All they wish is to be left in peace to live out their days free from worry - as a result Housing Associations have a duty to ensure that they conduct their affairs not only legally but with due regard to the rights of people for whom they are responsible.
It can be argued that through no fault of their own Housing Associations are so constrained by equality, diversity and other requirements laid down by central government they do not have the time to concentrate on their main reason for being in existence - namely the 'care' of the elderly.
Just another thought the EHRC may wish to take on board.