THE husband of an elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer has accused a council of acting like “cowboy builders” after the cost of his wife’s day care went up by 400 per cent.

Last night, the Alzheimer’s Society said the case of 76- year-old Evelyn Wiffen, from Darlington, illustrated the urgent need to overhaul the way that social care is paid for.

When Mrs Wiffen started going to the St Hilda’s Day Centre, in Darlington, in August last year the charge was £10 per session.

In April this year, the fee increased to £28.80, and recently Darlington Borough Council told her husband, Peter, also 76, that the cost of a daily session was about to go up to £50.78.

Mr Wiffen, of Claxton Avenue, who has to pay fees because the couple have a pension and savings, said: “If the council were classed as cowboy builders, they would be arrested for robbery.”

The council said the increase was down to a primary care trust subsidy being redirected to other mental health services and has promised to meet the couple to discuss their concerns.

Mr Wiffen, who worked as a senior executive for the Department of Social Services, in Darlington, until he retired, is the main carer for his wife.

He said the couple were being punished for being financially independent.

“I think that the crime my wife and I have committed is to have lived within our means for the 56 years that we have been married,” he said.

“Neither of us has received any inheritance and the money that we have is our savings, every penny of which we have worked for.

“Had we been feckless and lived the life of Riley, leaving us with no savings, our day centre visits would be for free.”

Danielle Chadwick, manager of the Darlington and Teesside Alzheimer’s Society,said: “This is another example of the urgent need for reform of the way social care is paid for.

“Tens of thousands of people with dementia effectively pay a dementia tax, with families paying for increasingly expensive care while other diseases are covered by the NHS. A recent commission led by Andrew Dilnot recommended that fees for social care be capped.

“The Alzheimer’s Society is calling for the Government to fully implement the commission’s recommendations to ease the financial burden faced by people living with dementia and their carers.”

Elsewhere in the region, Durham County Council started charging for day care services at the beginning of September. The amount people pay is dependent on a financial assessment and their specific needs.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said clients attending day care centres typically paid two to three pounds a session.

In Bedale, North Yorkshire, a day centre provided by the Alzheimer’s Society and commissioned by the NHS and the county council was closed recently, leading to a campaign to have it reopened.

A Darlington Borough Council spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear of Mr Wiffen’s distress at changes to the way social care is provided.

“We have a duty to ensure individuals experiencing mental health issues have a choice of services available to them. We fulfil this duty by contracting a range of providers, such as Mind UK, to provide these services.

“We shared the costs of the service with the PCT. This meant Mr and Mrs Wiffen were in receipt of a subsidised service.

“Due to changes in healthcare funding, the PCT has redirected its funding to other mental health services.

“We are in touch with Mr and Mrs Wiffen and we will be meeting them to discuss their concerns to try and establish if there is any additional support or advice we can provide.”

A spokesman for NHS County Durham and Darlington said: “We have made a commitment to ensure funding is redirected to commission preventative services and support for people of all ages who are no longer eligible for full mental health day service support.”

The Department of Health said it was gathering views on the Commission on Funding Care and Support ahead of a Social Care White Paper in the spring.