AN elderly couple have accused Cornwall Council of 'shameful' behaviour after it refused to come out to fix a broken boiler over the weekend leaving them in a freezing council house with no central heating and hot water.

Council Housing tenants Norman, 78, and Jean Hunter, 69, called the council's housing emergency line after the boiler at their home in Saracen Way, Penryn gave up the ghost on Sunday morning.

They asked for an emergency call out to get it fixed but were told that it was not an emergency as they had an electric fire in their lounge.

On Monday morning Mrs Hunter said she was close to tears as it still wasn't clear whether someone would be coming out to fix her boiler.

However, after the council was contacted by the Packet, as well as former Penryn mayor councillor Mary May, a 'very concerned' lady from the council contacted them and by midday their boiler was back on.

"It was a very cold night last night and we got dressed into our clothes to try and keep warm because the hot water bottles had got cold," said Mrs Hunter. "It was just so cold. We just got dressed and stayed in bed to try and keep warm.

"The house is so cold again this morning. I put the fan heater on upstairs to try and keep my husband warm because he is 78 and a diabetic so he feels the cold more than me. I came down and put the gas oven on, with the door open to try and heat the dining room up. Our fingers were so cold that when we tried to pick cups up or anything like that we were dropping them."

She said they were also forced to use a kettle to wash.

Mrs Hunter is disabled due to ME and Fybromialdia and is asthmatic. She suffers severe pains to all her joints and spine and with added arthritis too and requires full central heating throughout the house, not just in one room. She also uses her shower to help relieve pain in her spine by sitting under the hot water. Mr Hunter also suffers with arthritis.

"When we rang the chap he said 'Have you got any heating?' and I said 'well there's an electric heater in the living room' but that cuts out when it gets to a certain temperature and sends out ice cold air and it stays like that for quite a while. So we had to switch that off as we don't want the ice cold air blowing on our joints.

"Once it's switched off it takes ages before it will switch back on to hot air again. Then your house temperature has dropped and you are back to being in a cold room. But because we have got that electric fire he said 'you have got heating in the room you're not classed as an emergency' so he wouldn't come out.

"I tried to explain to him saying 'look I'm on the vulnerable list with the council because of my disabilities'. I said because I am on that list that will give us priority for an emergency call out. No, he said because you have heating in one room to keep you warm it's not an emergency. We're not sending anyone out,".

Mrs Hunter said the council installed the boiler over ten years ago. They had lived in the house for 31 years and had been model tenants and had never been any trouble to the council.

"We are more upset that somebody, a fellow human being, somebody in the council has left elderly people in this position," said Mrs Hunter. "Although we have heating one room they haven't considered that we have had to wake up to a cold house." She added: "It's shameful."

Mrs Hunter had particular praise for former Penryn mayor, Councillor Mary May, and June Chappel, wife of former Falmouth mayor Grenville Chappel, who she thinks were instrumental in making sure the council did send someone out to fix their boiler.

"Their help has helped to get things moving more quickly we feel," she said. "Without it we are sure we could still have been left waiting."

A statement issued by Cornwall Housing, part of the Corserv Group, a company owned by Cornwall Council but run independently of the council said: "The out-of-hours team will have taken the call from our elderly tenants on Sunday to say that their heating was not working. 

"When we got there yesterday morning (Monday 18th) to remedy the situation it appears that the tenant had turned off the boiler because the pressure had dropped. 

"The pressure drop was caused by a leaking radiator.  The leak was fixed, the boiler re-pressurised and the system operating correctly when the engineer left. 

"The system was up and running within our 24 hour service standard (even though it was reported on a Sunday)."