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FLAMING CHEEK; Almshouse OAPs' fury after being told to hand over winter fuel cash.

Byline: Cara Simpson

PENSIONERS living in city centre almshouses are furious that they are being asked to hand over their winter fuel allowance.

All 75 residents of Coventry's three almshouses - Bond's Hospital and Bond's Court, in Hill Street, and Ford's Hospital, in Greyfriars Lane - have received letters demanding their Government allowance.

The annual fuel allowance, which is pounds 250 for the over-60s and pounds 400 for the over-80s, was introduced in 1998 to help people pay the extra cost of heating during the winter months.

Residents claim they have been warned action will be taken if they fail to hand over their subsidy, which they say is meant for the sole use of the recipient, to the Coventry Church (Municipal) Charities, which runs the homes.

They say residents have been told by trustees their fuel funding must be paid to the charity by the end of this month.

A group of residents is seeking legal action against the charity because they claim weekly service charges were already increased in 2007 to account for the Government fuel allowance.

The chairman of the Coventry Church (Municipal) Charities, Victor Keene, was made an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to the community in Coventry.

The charity's trustees decided last September to introduce an annual heating charge, and issued letters to residents informing them it would be equivalent to the Government's Winter Fuel Allowance.

George Chapman, aged 64, a Ford's Hospital resident of five years, said: "Pensioners need the money to run their own electric heaters and pay for warmer clothes to wear during the winter.

"What they're doing goes against the founding principles of the almshouses in which we live."

He claims those who handed over their allowance did so out of fear they will be evicted from their flats.

Although the charity argues the heating fee was removed from the service charge from 2008, a resident requested a breakdown of that year's service charges, which lists communal heating among gardening and interior decoration costs.

Mr Chapman, a retired antiques dealer, added: "This is totally immoral and I feel very cross, I find the charity's actions extremely heartless.

"We'd be paying the equivalent of our winter allowance twice.

"We've got elderly ladies in their 80s and 90s living in these homes and they shouldn't be facing this sort of harassment."

Gwen Goss, an 87-year-old Ford s Hospital resident who is adamant she won't give up her pounds 400 allowance, said: "If they want us to pay an amount for winter heating, everyone should pay the same.

"This is penalising the oldest and most vulnerable, who need the heating the most."

Eddie Murphy, aged 66, a retired Jaguar worker, said: "I simply can't afford it, that's the bottom line."

A letter arguing the residents' case has been sent to Richard Dyott, clerk to the trustees.

Mr Dyott told the Telegraph: "The charity believes this is the fairest way of dealing with the question of residents' heating bills.

"If the charity wishes to exercise its charitable decision to allow those who are eligible for the most Government Winter Fuel Allowance to pay the most, then it has every right to do so. Twothirds of our residents have already paid."

In addition to the heating payment, residents of the almhouses pay a weekly maintenance contribution of about pounds 120, which includes rent, a service charge and a support charge.

CAPTION(S):

UP IN ALMS: Eddie Murphy (left) and George Chapman are among the angry residents of Ford's Hospital (inset).
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 11, 2010
Words:585
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