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Blaze survivor's shock bill

PUBLISHED: 10:45 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:20 03 July 2010

A pensioner whose sheltered housing bungalow was gutted by a blaze that killed his friend has been left reeling by a £1,000 bill for the accommodation he stayed in while his home was being refitted.

A pensioner whose sheltered housing bungalow was gutted by a blaze that killed his friend has been left reeling by a £1,000 bill for the accommodation he stayed in while his home was being refitted.

Retired dustman George Star, 74, who uses a walking frame, had to feel his way along a wall in the pitch black to escape the fire that engulfed the bedroom of his friend Alan Austin at their home in Wherry Way, off Caister Road, Yarmouth, in February.

After recovering in hospital from shock and the effects of smoke inhalation, Mr Star was placed by social services in a local residential home, Carisbrooke House, while his bungalow was repaired.

Now just days ahead of the inquest into 75-year-old Mr Austin's death being heard on July 16, Mr Star has been presented with a £1,020 bill from Norfolk County Council for his six-week stay.

His friend Tony Griffen said: “Because he receives housing benefit George only has to pay £9 a week to Yarmouth Borough Council to cover the cost of heating at his Wherry Way bungalow.

“He's lucky to be alive and the fire was not his fault as will become clear at the inquest - so it seems harsh that he should have to fork out more than £1,000 out of his modest pension.”

Mr Griffen said Mr Star, a dustman with Breckland Council for 29 years, was appreciative of the good care he had received at Carisbrooke House, but he had not wanted to go into a residential home in the first place. It was unfortunate there had been no alternative bungalows available.

He said: “George was aware he would be asked to pay something, but the most that had been talked about was a figure of about £700.

“He has just been in hospital for a throat condition and we are convinced the stress of this has contributed to it.”

James Bullion, assistant director of community care at Norfolk County Council, said: “We understand the tragic nature of this case and have been working closely with Mr Star and Yarmouth Borough Council to find a suitable solution to this issue.

“The charge for residential care is only made after an assessment that looks at an individual's ability to pay.

“Alongside this we ensure that people who access our services are receiving all the state benefits that they are entitled to and we offer support to claim these where necessary.

“However, we recognise that these are exceptional circumstances and we will continue to talk to Mr Starr in the hope of resolving this matter as quickly as possible.”

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