WITH many pensioners facing such hardships as deciding whether to heat their homes or eat any addition to their daily living costs is an extra squeeze on their finances.

Recent news that pensioners will have to pay a small weekly charge for the Safe and Sound service which offers a lifeline to many has sparked mixed reactions from those who feel at ease knowing they can literally call someone at the touch of a button if they are in need.

Former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Valerie Binney, a former portfolio holder for adult services who suffers from the degenerative condition - Motor Neurone Disease - has already called for Bradford Council to re-think its decision to start charging for the formerly free care service she described as a 'lifeline.'

The authority is introducing a £3.60 weekly fee for an alarm service for the elderly, disabled or those who have just come out of hospital. Users will now have to pay for the Council's device which sends emergency help if people press a panic button on a pendant worn around their neck.

But Jean Walker, a founder member of Bradford and District Senior Power, who has used one of the pendants for nearly two years, say she doesn't think it should be charged.

"I have one, most people on their own have. They are a lifeline."

She says while some people could use money from their benefits such as the disability living allowance, others may not be able to afford it.

"To go from it being free to being £3.60 a week is a lot to some people. I really do. Some people are struggling with electricity and heating.

"There are a lot of people who don't get disability allowance who are elderly and their money is getting stretched more and more. It is uneconomical to cut it back. If they had a fall they would have to rely on the kindness of their neighbours and you have the cost of the ambulance coming, the cost of somebody going into hospital whereas if you can get help quicker it cuts down on that. To me it is another cost-cutting, we are being hit all the time," says Jean.

"I know they have decisions to make but I think this is not just a hard one it is a poor one."

But Bradford centagenarian, Connie Galilee, who also benefits from the service, says while she doesn't begrudge paying for the service, she believes £2 would have been more affordable.

"I don't think anybody would grumble at that but it is a big jump from nothing to £3.60 a week for people who are living on their pension," says Connie.

"It is as good as having somebody in the house with you. All you have to do is press the button and there is somebody there."

"But I am not begrudging paying it because it is an absolute Godsend."

Coun Doreen Lee, Older People's Champion for Keighley East, says it is 'ridiculous' older people are now having to pay for the service.

"People have enough to pay out as it is. They don't need anything else," she says.

Colin Gornall, chief executive of Bradford and District Age UK, says they became aware of the charge on the service after a few people called into their Kirkgate office expressing concerns about the charge.

But Colin says their team can offer advice and support and sign-post people on, where necessary, to see if they can qualify for benefits to help with their finances.

"It is about raising awareness and helping older people, people over 50, giving them what they are entitled to," says Colin.

Bradford Council's strategic director for adult services Janice Simpson, said: "The charge for the Safe and Sound Service was approved by the Council as part of the savings that Adult and Community Services needed to make in order to reduce costs. The proposal to charge for this service was subject to public consultation as part of the overall budget consultation prior to the Council approving the budget plans for Adult and Community Services.

"In 2011 we charged £4.25 per week for the basic response service and £5.75 if users needed additional equipment such as medication prompts. This was actually higher than the £3.60 per week flat rate charge now being introduced to help meet the significant funding reductions imposed upon the Council.

"An initial six week free service period is available to new customers and will allow people to make informed choices about the benefits of the safe and sound service."

Anyone concerned about funding the pendant can have their individual circumstances re-assessed by contacting the council's contact centre on (01274) 431000.