DISTRAUGHT pensioners broke down in tears as they discovered they are being forced to leave their sheltered accommodation homes.

More than 40 elderly residents at Pembroke Court, Westwood Road, Southampton, must find new places to live because the company that owns their building wants to demolish it.

The decision by Anchor Retirement Housing has caused great distress among the close-knit tenants, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s and have lived in the flats for up to 20 years.

One resident said that some neighbours were on medication to deal with depression caused by the upheaval, while others said they would rather die than move.

Jean Nye, 75, a resident with husband Syd for seven years, said many tenants had been reduced to tears by news of the closure.

"It's been a very distressing time for all of us and we have all had restless nights over it," said Mrs Nye.

"We think it's too late and they have definitely decided to close it."

Mrs Nye said residents had been told they now have 12 months to find new homes.

Hampshire's director of Age Concern believes being forced to move could be catastrophic for tenants.

"It's going to have a devastating effect on them," said Chris Perry.

"People thrive on change when they are in control, but it's when change is imposed that it's detrimental.

"The one thing that's central in people's lives, particularly for pensioners, who don't go out to work, is their home.

"Taking that away can be devastating."

Barbara Laing, Anchor's managing director of housing services, said there was no alternative to closure because Pembroke Court was running at a loss and was in urgent need of refurbishment.

She said a team would help tenants find new homes, while the company worked with Southampton City Council on a replacement scheme.

"We realise the situation is bound to cause concern and upset.

"We will do all we can to minimise any worry tenants may experience and to support them through this process," she said.

A council spokeswoman said it supported Anchor's decision, and would be assisting in efforts to re-house tenants.

"The council is committed to ensuring all residents live in decent homes that meet modern standards," she said.

"Pembroke Court does not meet these modern standards and so Anchor Housing has made the decision to close the scheme and develop new homes in order to better meet the needs of older people in the city."