Bodies left to rot for months at sheltered housing after warden cuts

“The bodies of two dead people were allegedly left to rot for months at a retirement home because of ‘callous’ care cuts, residents have claimed.

The latest corpse was found on August 8 at Mussidan Place in Woodbridge, Suffolk, after a neighbour noticed the man’s kitchen was infested with flies.

Residents at the home, which previously used to be sheltered housing before it turned into retirement accommodation, believe the body had been there since June, when they first complained about a bad smell. They said they were shocked by the death but it was not the first.

Another body was found in February and neighbours claim the dead man’s relative told them it had been there since November last year. They said the bodies would have been found sooner if budget cuts hadn’t stripped away wardens who used to check up on residents.

Valerie Kersey, 74, who has lived at Mussidan Place, owned by Flagship Housing, for four years, said: “There’s been a lot of reaction since the latest death.

“You feel guilty, thinking you should have noticed, and you feel angry. It shouldn’t happen. We’ve been through it twice now.”

Residents are urging Suffolk County Council to bring back funding for wardens. The cuts to sheltered housing support sparked complaints from tenants across the region when they came into force in 2018.

Flagship said there is a pull-alarm system in all communal areas connected to a call centre and people could buy individual alarms, but residents say these are unreliable.

Clive Field, 78, said it could take 20 minutes to get through to one the call centres, as there’s “never anyone on the phone.” Trevor Rose, 70, said Flagship failed to respond to complaints about the buildings and had not reassured people after the deaths.

Woodbridge mayor Eamonn O’Nolan, who attended as a first responder when the latest body was discovered, has since held a meeting with residents. He said: “I’m quite frankly horrified that their essential support services have been reduced to zero, in a cold and callous way”. “Two elderly residents have died and their bodies lay undiscovered for weeks and months while their neighbours and the authorities were in complete ignorance of their deaths.

“There is no doubt that had Mussidan Place still had a warden, then at least the bodies would have been discovered immediately.” He said the deaths were tragic and ‘should come as a serious wake-up call for us all’. He added: “It is clear to me that the county council’s social services department is not doing its job.”

Sylvia Keeble, who was a warden for 35 years, said there were 17 sheltered schemes locally when she started, all with live-in staff and then gradually over the years, they got ‘rid’ of them. “We had cutback after cutback until there were just four staff managing 15 shelter schemes”, she said.

Flagship, which made record profits of £33.1m last year, stopped providing sheltered support in 2016. Orwell Housing stepped in with a reduced service, which saw wardens phone round residents each morning and visit if needed. The services stopped completely in April 2018.

Coun Helen Armitage, Labour’s adult care spokesman at the county council, was ‘saddened and appalled by the failings in social care’. She said: “Residents move into sheltered accommodation because they need additional support and security – support and security that regular warden visits used to provide. “Since the Conservatives at SCC have cut their funding, housing associations been unable to plug the gap and have been forced to reduce their services.”

The council said sheltered housing providers had been informed of the proposals to remove funding two years before they came into force.

A spokesman said Flagship and Orwell Housing were both told about the budget changes in 2016.

“This was to provide an opportunity for the providers to develop options on how they may choose to provide support when the grant expired at the end of the 2017/18 financial year.

“Suffolk County Council publishes its proposed budget and any changes to funding are in the public domain. The council is committed to working alongside providers of care and support to deliver quality services to residents across Suffolk.”

The council allocated £234m for adult and community services in 2019/20,
almost half its total £500m budget for the year. It has cut £260m from its overall budget since 2011.