Hundreds of Lancashire’s most vulnerable residents face being forced to leave their homes under cost-cutting plans.
Lancashire County Council wants to reduce the size of its in-house domiciliary service, which currently supports 320 people in 112 properties, to 120 residents or fewer.
It believes finding 200 tenants “more cost-effective supported living arrangements” and reducing its staff could save the authority £4.2m in the next four years.
The council’s deputy leader, David Borrow, admitted the proposals were “sensitive” and said the changes would be “difficult”.
But critics including former council leader Geoff Driver said it was “disgraceful to even think of doing it”, while the head of a disability charity expressed concerns over the support on offer for those affected by the move.
The council needs to save around £300m from its annual budget by 2017/18, due to cuts in government funding.
David Borrow, deputy leader and portfolio holder for finance at the council, said introducing the changes would be “a long, difficult process”.
The Labour councillor said: “We’re changing the way we look after vulnerable people and that’s not easy to do.
“Homes were set up with tenancies for people with disabilities, and when they were originally set up, three to four people would share a house with domicilliary support.
“As those tenants move out or die, the remaining tenants need to agree before anybody else can move in.
“The problem is we have lots of properties with less than the number of tenants that were in these homes originally. There are lots of vacancies.
“We’re not aiming to take away support and services from tenants, but because they have got tenancy rights in the existing agreements, we’ve got to find a way of changing the situation so we’re making the best use of the properties.”
Coun Borrow said a consultation had begun involving the council’s budget working group and the voluntary sector.
The plans will go before cabinet members later this month.
He added: “This is one of the most difficult and sensitive areas to work through.”
Former council leader Geoff Driver branded the proposals “outrageous”.
The Conservative group leader said: “These are really vulnerable people.
“This service is to enable people with serious disabilities to live in a home together.
“Usually they will put two or three people together living in a house and then they can support them.
“They are going to reduce the number of tenants by two thirds. It is disgraceful to even think of doing it.”
It is not yet known what the new supported living arrangements will involve or whether new external providers will run the service.
Melanie Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said people living in supported housing often had ‘substantial’ needs, which can include an inability to carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines.
She said reassessments would likely take place, raising concerns about what alternative support would be offered to tenants who might now be judged by the council to only have ‘moderate’ needs.
She said: “The council might say they intend to support these 200 people in their own accommodation.
“But there is a reason there are currently 320 people in supported accommodation, so what is the alternative?
“What we find is when people do live independently, they can become quite isolated.
“The council needs to make sure they’re putting in the same level of support.
“Supported housing is expensive but if that’s what people need, they should get it.
“If they are going to reassess people and they are found to have substantial needs, then they are going to have to put a level of support in, and I can’t see how it would be appropriate to do it in people’s own accommodation.
“We’re never adverse to looking at different ways of doing things, but money can’t be the motivator of that.”