Disabled residents of a Leonard Cheshire care home have described the charity’s actions as “underhand”, “immoral” and “despicable” after it suddenly announced plans to close the service and sell the building.
Two residents of Chiltern House, in Gerrards Cross, south Buckinghamshire, told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that they had arrived back from their holidays to be told Leonard Cheshire was planning to sell their home.
The charity is already under investigation by the Charity Commission over its financial problems, although the commission said in May that it was “satisfied that the charity has a robust turnaround plan in place and is making progress in putting it into action”.
Residents said they had been told the home (pictured) was being sold for financial reasons, although the charity yesterday (Wednesday) blamed other reasons and said it was a “strategic decision”.
It is just the latest in a series of care homes the charity has been forced to sell in recent years.
In last year’s annual report (PDF), Leonard Cheshire’s chief executive, Ruth Owen, spoke of “a serious financial challenge that had built up over many years”. That report also detailed a “dedicated Property Disposal Team”.
The charity has been selling its care homes – sometimes to other service-providers – since 2018, when it was accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement after suddenly telling residents of 17 of its homes that it planned to sell them to other care-providers.
The 22 disabled residents of Chiltern House have been told their home will not be sold to another provider.
Instead, it will close by the end of February next year if the proposal is confirmed after a short consultation.
Mark, one of the residents, told DNS the decision was “totally immoral”.
In the past, he has given talks to local Rotary clubs, schools and colleges in which he has praised the charity.
Now he faces being kicked out of the home where he has lived for more than a quarter of a century.
He said: “I think it’s very underhand. We are being penalised because of where we live. The site is probably worth quite a lot of money.
“So many people’s lives are going to be shattered. It’s not easy to get rehoused and to get links in the community again.
“It is not just an existence, we get out and do things, we are part of the community.”
He said he had been informed about the closure five minutes after returning from holiday last Friday and was told by the charity it faced a financial “deficit” and that Leonard Cheshire “owes the bank a lot and the bank wants to see more repayments made”.
He said he still hoped the charity would change its mind, but he added: “I fear it is just going to be about money rather than people. It’s just money, money, money.”
He said the decision appeared to be “totally against” the charity’s founding principles.
Mark said: “I was gutted. As far as I am concerned, the home is run very well at a local level and a lot of the staff are very dedicated.
“I think we have been penalised for things that have happened elsewhere.”
At least two of its residents are believed to have moved to Chiltern House in the last year, after being forced to leave another Leonard Cheshire care home that was being sold.
Another resident, Sandra, a former teacher who has lived at Chiltern House since 1985, told DNS she thought the charity’s decision was “despicable”, and that it wanted to sell the care home because the land was so valuable.
She said: “Leonard Cheshire [the charity’s founder] would turn in his grave.”
She said she was worried about where she would move next, as she has no family and there is a shortage of accommodation locally for disabled people.
There will now be a four-week consultation, and some residents are determined to fight the plans to sell their home.
Leonard Cheshire said it had “significantly” cut staff outside frontline care delivery, reduced other spending, and secured increases in fees “so they are appropriate to the current costs involved in care delivery”, while its “good progress” would be reflected in its accounts for 2022-23, which will be published soon.
A Leonard Cheshire spokesperson told DNS: “Huge challenges remain in modernising much of our social care delivery, with many of our services and supporting technology requiring investment.
“This means we have had to make some difficult decisions about some of our services.”
He said that Chiltern House needed “a considerable amount of investment” for essential work, and that upgrading the service to meet “preferred choices from disabled people in the future would cost vastly more”.
He said Children House income had not kept pace with rising costs, while recruitment for some key roles had “proved difficult”, with problems securing a suitable permanent manager and “high agency use for extended periods”.
He said: “We appreciate any closure proposal causes a degree of upset and worry and we are working closely with everyone impacted.
“However, given the long-term trends at Chiltern House, we cannot justify the kind of long-term financial commitment necessary to modernise the service so it has a sustainable future.
“Having considered all the circumstances and with great regret, we are now proposing to close Chiltern House.”
He added: “There is a dedicated team in place to manage what is a sensitive situation for all, with named contacts for residents and families to talk through any concerns.
“We will work closely with residents and local authorities funding their places to secure alternative support which is right for them. This will not be a rushed process.”
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “The commission’s inquiry into Leonard Cheshire remains ongoing at this time, and as such we cannot comment further.
“It is our standard practice to make our findings public once an inquiry has concluded.”
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