ARGUMENTS are raging over care costs for Mid Cheshire's elderly amid fears of more increases in charges next year.
Cheshire County Council has already hiked home care charges for people with over £21,000 in savings to £16.40 per hour - up from £9.26 previously.
Opposition members claim there has been a fivefold increase in the number of people refusing council care and support because the fees are 'too costly'. There has also been a threefold increase in the number asking for reduced levels of care.
And with the cash-strapped council now planning next year's budget, fears are growing that it could increase costs again.
Labour's social services spokesman Brendan Doyle said: 'People have little alternative because of the massive increases in care charges and we have to ask whether we as a county council face up to the challenge of treating vulnerable people justly? The answer seems to be a resounding no.'
He said since the higher charges came in, 277 people across the county either reduced or cancelled their care services, four times as many as in 2005.
Ken Clemens of Hartford-based Age Concern Cheshire said it was clear the charges had affected the numbers of people receiving care, which gave cause for 'serious concern'.
He said: 'There is a definite decrease in people going for home care. Although that was most pronounced in the first couple of months and has levelled out again now, the difficult thing is to discover what elderly people are not spending money on in order to afford care.'
He said the council had only moved in line with other authorities in the UK, but was worried about what next year's budget may hold. He said: 'Cheshire is at the same level as other counties, but because its charges were kept low before, the increase has bitten hard.
'The council said it has no plans to increase charges again, though it can legally charge people 100% of their care costs as opposed to the 75% it currently charges and it faces a £30m deficit on older people's services. It doesn't receive enough money from the Government, and we hope it doesn't try to make that up with extra charges.
'We would hope the issue of adequately shifting resources to fund older peoples services will be addressed prior to the setting of the budget.'
Northwich East and Shakerley Cty Cllr George Mainwaring said that the situation in his area was unacceptable. He said: 'This is a fantastic amount of money for elderly people to have to pay, particularly when you consider that at a cost of just 11p per week per Cheshire household we can pay for the county's care.
'But it's not fair to say that the Government doesn't give enough money. More is spent by this Government on care and health than ever before, so you have to take a look at where it's going.'
Norma Taylor, chairwoman of Middlewich's Over 60s club, added: 'It's a charge for people who saved money, going without holidays so they have something to fall back on in their old age or leave their children - and now it's all being spent on care. It's a penalty for people who were thrifty.'
COUNCILLORS have demanded bosses monitor the effects of the increased charges.
Labour Cllr David Newton said: 'Those at the bottom end of the scale don't have to pay the charges, those at the upper end may have the means to meet them. But what about the broad numbers in the middle who have to pay something but can't afford to?'
A County Hall spokesman said: 'We have a comprehensive system to monitor the impact of care charges on users. We would emphasise all charges are based on what it costs the authority to provide the care.'
And Lynn Hardwick, executive member for adult social services, pointed to an assessment last month which found its care services 'serve most people well'. She said: 'We aim to enable older people to live independently by providing the right amount of care at the right time.
'We have a monitoring system in place to assess the impact of increased care charges. It is a key commitment for Cheshire County Council to maintain and improve the standard of home care services.'