THE Meals on Wheels service is to be axed.

Essex County Council will stop running, commissioning or subsidising the service from October.

Users will be directed to alternative providers but the cost for those who rely on the hot meal service is expected to rise substantially.

Dave Harris, county councillor for Colchester’s Maypole ward, has condemned the decision.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

He said: “What about the hundreds of vulnerable people who rely on the service?

“What are those on a tight budget going to do? It is ridiculous.

“Some people are not capable of cooking for themselves and will be living on sandwiches.”

Mr Harris also raised concerns about life expectancy and the health of those who rely on the subsidised service for their nutrition.

The council currently commissions the service from Sodexo at £4.20 per meal but the contract ends in September and will not be renewed.

Instead, the council will provide a list of alternative providers “to ensure minimum standards are in place”.

A report from County Hall revealed the plans will save more than £400,000 by March 2019.

The council currently spends about £300,000 each year on the service but plans to slash this to about £70,000.

Last year, as part of a pilot scheme, the council removed the service from 143 people with Sodexo closing its Colchester depot.

Alternative providers were found for 89 people, although how much they had to pay is not included in the report.

Others had to rely on support from family members, carers or use frozen meals.

Centres in Basildon and Enfield remained supplying about 690 residents who were assessed as “unable to prepare their own meals” but these will also now stop.

The report states people have the option of online shopping if they are need help and revealed 60 per cent of those referred during the past year had stopped using it within the year.

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Essex, said: “It is important no-one is disadvantaged by the removal of the service and alternative provision is being provided to meet people’s individual needs.”

Essex County Council has to make millions of pounds in cuts and raise council tax to balance the books after being given less money from Government but more responsibilities.