By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Members of Lewisham council’s scrutiny committee have urged the authority to rethink plans to scrap a service that manages the finances of very vulnerable people.
The service is offered by the council when residents are unable to manage their own financial affairs or lack the mental capacity to do so.
It safeguards money for rent, makes sure bills are paid, and protects people from being taken advantage of.
Part of three-year draft proposals to make £40 million in cuts, the council plans to save £160,000 next year if the cut is approved in February.
It plans to seek out external providers, which will result in clients paying “significantly more” for the service.
A council document outlined the risks of the proposed cut.
“Requiring vulnerable clients to pay for external providers to provide this service may pose a risk of financial abuse.
“In the past, efforts have been made by external providers to maintain standards and maximise growth for clients, but these may not always be successful.”
The proposed cut formed part of the first round of cuts and concerns were raised about it at the public accounts committee in December.
At the healthier communities committee on Wednesday, members pushed to keep the service in-house, but to charge for it.
Tom Brown, executive director of community services, told the committee: “It’s a complex issue and we need to make sure we have good provision to protect the assets of people who have nobody else to do that.
“If it goes wrong we would be deemed to be negligent. We have to handle this sensitively and make sure we get it right.”
Cllr Alan Smith spoke of his own experience and warned what could happen if the service wasn’t scrutinised.
“I have shared with my sister the power of attorney for my mother, who has dementia, and there is so little scrutiny outside of anything the council can provide.
“There is absolutely nothing that would stop my sister and myself, other than our own sense of duty, from stripping her account completely bare if we felt like it.
“And it would worry me intensely if we were to farm out this kind of power to access other people’s money and goods without some very strong scrutiny.
“Keeping it in-house keeps that scrutiny going,” he said.
Pictured top: Lewisham civic centre
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