FEARS have been raised that plans to privatise a string of Darlington care homes could compromise the level of support offered to elderly residents.

Darlington Borough Council has contacted tenants living in the borough’s four extra case housing schemes – Dalkeith House, Mayflower Court, Oban Court and Rosemary Court – to inform them of plans to change the care provider.

Three of the facilities are council-run, with the fourth - Mayflower Court - operated by Hanover Housing Association.

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The council says it is looking at options regarding the care provider and is encouraging residents’ comments on the proposal.

Extra care housing exists for people with an assessed need for at-home care, such as support with bathing, dressing and using the toilet.

Domestic support such as housework, shopping, cleaning and laundry is also available, as well as 24-hour on-call and emergency support, a hot meal per day and cleaning of communal areas.

A council spokeswoman said: “The services are currently provided by a combination of staff from the council and some by external providers.

“We want to find out if the support could be delivered more effectively by independent providers, as the council has a responsibility to make sure that all services provide best value.

“Social care needs are assessed on an individual basis, and the council has a duty to provide care to meet these assessed needs.

“These needs will continue to be met in extra care housing, irrespective of who provides the care.”

A source close to the extra care industry in Darlington has raised concerns that an effort to save money could compromise help available to vulnerable people.

The man, who did not want to be named, said: “If a private sector company takes over paying minimum wage to its staff, will that result in a minimum level of service?

“We have been told that, in the next couple of months, the extra care schemes will be offered to companies and fear the council’s efforts to save money will have a negative impact on the level of care offered to vulnerable people.”

Council officers cannot make any recommendations until after the consultation period.

The spokeswoman added: “We have written to all tenants, and to next of kin where appropriate, to ask them to share their views.

“One option is to attend a session [being held at each of the homes], but tenants and their families can also share their views with us in writing or by calling us.”

Representations must be made by February 22, after which time a report to cabinet will be prepared, with a decision due in April.