Council bosses defended their actions yesterday after claims that an elderly woman starved to death because her home had no letterbox for her pension to be delivered.

Ivy Allen, aged 79, was found dead at her one-bedroomed council bungalow in Warrington, Cheshire, earlier this month.

Her emaciated body was only discovered after a housing official called at the property to check why she had not paid her rent for six months.

Following her death it emerged her benefits book and giro cheques had not been delivered because the authorities had given her a front door with no letterbox.

Mrs Allen?s family have criticised the council for not checking on the pensioner.

Bob Williams, head of communications at Warrington Borough Council, described Mrs Allen as ?very independent? and said officials had worked extremely hard alongside her family to help.

He said: ?We first became involved with Mrs Allen in February this year when, following the death of her partner, she became very distressed.

?In order that we could take her to a place of care and safety, the police gained access to her home.

?As a result, the front door was damaged and had to be replaced the following day in order to secure the property.

?Numerous appointments were agreed verbally with Mrs Allen to gain access to fit a letterbox, but she continually refused to allow access or stay at home.?

Mr Williams said Mrs Allen told the council she no longer needed their support in April this year and her family were informed. He added: ?At that time we agreed with both Mrs Allen, and in writing with a member of her family, that she could cope and live independently in the community.

?She was a very independent lady who chose not to cook for herself, preferring to travel into the town centre to eat.

?In late June this year we became aware that she had been admitted to hospital.

? However, she again declined to accept any support and, as the hospital was not concerned about her discharge home, it was not necessary for us to take any further action.

?We continued to try to maintain contact with Mrs Allen, and indeed contacted her family due to our concerns at the end of August. Our concerns continued right up to early September when we unfortunately found her dead in her house.

?We were very sorry to hear of Mrs Allen?s death but believe we did everything we could to support her to live the lifestyle she had chosen.?

Mrs Allen?s daughter Sandra Murphy, aged 42, said all ten children and her 30 grandchildren knew they had made mistakes in the months leading up to her death, but were angry that she had slipped through the welfare net.

She said: ?Mum was always independent and social services were meant to be keeping an eye on her. They weren?t.

?If we?d known her benefits were cut and the care visits had stopped we would have been round there in a flash. A simple phone call would have saved her life.?

The Department of Work and Pensions said an inquiry was being launched into the events.

A spokeswoman said: ?The department obviously expresses its sympathy to the family of Mrs Allen.?