NORTHUMBERLAND County Council has been accused of targeting some of the county’s most vulnerable residents with controversial changes to disability care charges.

The changes, which could lead to a total estimated saving of £1.1m, will increase the weekly charge for disability-related services by £13.30 for most people – a rise which will be phased in over the next two years.

Charges for home care, which are currently subsidised in rural areas, will now take into account the full cost to the council, up to the limit of what each recipient is assessed as being able to pay.

Exceptions will be made for “very rural” areas.

From October this year, all social care day services will be charged according to what is deemed affordable to the individual.

People paying for services via direct debit will no longer get a discount. And those with savings of more than £23,250 who ask the council to arrange their services will pay an additional admin fee.

County councillors voted through the proposals at last Wednesday’s full council meeting, by a margin of 36 votes to 26, with one abstention.

Coun. Veronica Jones, cabinet member for adult health and wellbeing, said: “I don’t think any of us will be welcoming these changes, but in the overall financial context, I believe they are necessary.”

Labour’s Coun. Susan Dungworth argued: “I want to focus on who it is we’re talking about here. Very, very vulnerable people in our communities.

“It’s like the proposals that have already gone through this council in terms of reducing council tax support. We are attacking the most vulnerable in this community, people who are already struggling.”

But members of the council’s Conservative administration insisted that only people who have the means to pay will do so, and that each case will be assessed.

Staff at Hexham-based disability service, Gateway into the Community, believe cuts in the past have led to more people relying on services provided by charities.

Outgoing coordinator, Fiona Macdonald, shared her concerns.

“We used to be the icing on the cake, but now for a lot of people we’re their main support,” said Fiona.

“People are using charities more than ever now.

“People are on budgets, if they have to pay out more they may have to chose what services they access.”