The Red Cross has apologised to its customers in Huntingdonshire after an “inconsistency” in a database led to people mistakenly receiving letters demanding the return of their mobility aids.

It is believed some 1,800 people in the district received a letter from the charity's regional hub, in Harlow, Essex, on October 11 informing them that the charity would be visiting homes to collect its property.

The Red Cross, which has a centre in St Neots, loans a range of items, including wheelchairs and toilet frames, free of charge for a period of three months, which many people renew by calling in to a centre or going online.

However, the charity erroneously sent letters to customers whose loan period had not expired informing them that they had exceeded their time limit and would lose their equipment imminently; using language that the charity conceded was "alarming".

Dorel Darton, a volunteer at the St Neots centre, said: "I had multiple people coming in to the centre who were upset, crying and cross about the letters. They had all tried to contact Harlow but the phone lines were constantly engaged.

"I work alone at the centre and the charity didn't tell me what was in the letters, I had no idea at that time, all I could do was apologise. It wasn't very nice."

Mrs Darton, who has volunteered for the Red Cross for four years, said she and other volunteers have had to deal with a "constant" stream of upset customers since the letters were sent out.

Geoff Cheshire, British Red Cross head of mobility aids operations, said: "In order to be able to continue to help people at their time of need with wheelchairs and other aids, we need to ensure that these are returned when they are no longer needed.

"Letters were sent out from our Harlow mobility hub with the intention of contacting people who we had not been able to get through to on the phone. Unfortunately, an inconsistency on the database system meant that people who had already returned their mobility aids, also received a letter. We apologise for this error. Our teams are looking into this now, to find out how it occurred.

"Upon reflection, we understand that some of the wording in the letter may have been alarming, this was not our intention and we're sorry that we did not get it right on this occasion. We will be looking into where we went wrong, to make sure it does not happen again."

Mr Cheshire added that everyone who received a letter in error would be contacted to explain the situation and apologise for any distress caused.