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Free service in jeopardy

SIMON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2012
Peter Freestone
SIMON SMITH

GREATLY APPRECIATED: Age Concern handyman Peter Freestone has helped June and Meyrick Higgs several times over the past year with small but difficult jobs such as replacing light bulbs.

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Seniors will no longer be able to get free help to do simple yet impossible chores.

Peter Freestone will have to stop his handyman fieldworker service in September if Age Concern cannot find the funding to keep him.

Chief executive Wendy Bremner says the service keeps older people in their homes by helping them with menial tasks such as changing smoke alarm batteries, hanging a curtain or changing a tap washer or light bulb.

"The service costs $60,000 a year to deliver and we need to find that money."

The charity has tried every funding option, including the Ministry of Social Development, the district health board and private businesses.

"And there's just no interest," she says. "I don't know how we can make our message stronger. Older people need to be valued more and their contribution to society."

In the 11 months to June, Mr Freestone has completed 226 jobs in the Counties Manukau area, including 69 in Howick and Pakuranga and two in Beachlands.

His clients are usually more than 70 years old, with the oldest being 103.

Mr Freestone says getting simple things repaired can be expensive for older people on a fixed income.

"If you've got to get someone in, even a tap washer would be $70 to $80."

As well as doing simple, quick jobs, the handyman offers advice on services and can refer people to trusted tradesmen and obtain quotes.

Half of his clients live in humble homes and "and that's where they would like to stay" as they often dread resthomes.

One woman, he says, was in tears on the phone because she just could not deal with little things breaking.

June Higgs, 79, has used the handyman service several times in the past year and usually waits until three lights need replacing before she calls.

"It's wonderful. If there's anything I don't know, I would call Peter because I feel he's very helpful, because as you get older you need a lot of help."

She says one of the good things Mr Freestone has done is to help her 92-year-old husband Meyrick apply for subsidised taxis under Auckland Transport's Total Mobility Scheme, as he has too much difficulty taking public transport.

If Mr Freestone can not continue his work the couple would have to find other help because they have no family nearby, but Mrs Higgs says it is difficult to know who to trust.

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- Eastern Courier

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