WINCHESTER civic chiefs are launching a pilot scheme for elderly people to avoid losing a contract with the county council.

The city council currently has a deal with the county to provide support services to all the elderly in the district.

But housing officers said county chiefs were “flexing their muscles” and threatening to cancel the contract because the city council is only providing the service to its sheltered housing tenants.

The £321,000 per year contract only provides support for up to 850 clients, or 425 hours per week, and city housing officers admitted they had not been taking referrals from county bosses.

Head of landlord services Richard Botham said: “We have to hold our hands up. We have not been meeting the obligations of our contract. The county has approached us before saying ‘we have someone we want you to support,’ and we have not been able to.”

He was speaking at a housing committee meeting that approved a new ‘floating’ support service that will see teams of support workers based in hubs around the district, able to provide home visits.

It means no more site specific support workers at council sheltered housing areas.

Tenants currently pay a compulsory charge for support at such schemes but officers confirmed they would now be able to opt-out of paying if they did not need the service.

Monica Gill, of Winchester Tenants and Council Together (TACT), said residents were satisfied with the changes.

She said: “We are hoping to arrange informal meetings at sheltered schemes to have a cup of tea and talk about it but most of the comments we have heard are that residents are happy to go along with it.

“The people who are most pleased are the ones paying the charge who don’t need to and now they can opt out.”

The elderly support contract is set to expire in March 2015.