Anger at care service price rise after council blunder saw personal information put at risk

Alan Cousins with his letter.
Alan Cousins with his letter.

A PENSIONER has blasted a council for raising the cost of a care service just days after a blunder that saw thousands of people’s personal information put at risk.

Alan Cousins, 84, is angry at Durham County Council for increasing the cost of its Care Connect service by 40p a week.

He is even more furious that the rise came just days after the authority lost a memory stick containing the details of thousands of people who use the service.

Mr Cousins, who lives in Blackhall and is a former Hartlepool Mail deputy editor, said the service, which offers 24/7 support for the elderly, was free before Durham’s district councils became a unitary authority in 2009. The service charge has increased from £4.10 per week to £4.50, meaning Mr Cousins must fork out an extra £20.80 a year.

But the dad-of-one, whose late wife Margaret, known as Peggy, used the service, has carried on paying for the facility, should he need it.

He said: “The day after we are told that Durham County Council’s Care Connect administration has lost a computer memory stick containing the details of thousands of elderly people – including the combination numbers of outside key safes and medication details – a letter from the council informs me that from April 1, the weekly charge for the service is to be increased by 40p. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.

“In view of the council’s carelessness in losing such an important item, especially if it has somehow fallen into the wrong hands, perhaps the authority should consider cancelling the increase.

“Better still, it might even consider reducing the weekly cost by the same amount, as a token of apology to the thousands of people effected.”

He added that many of those affected, especially those living alone, “may well have some sleepless nights worrying if they, and their homes are safe”.

But Adrian White, the county council’s head of contract services, said: “I would like to reassure everyone who uses the Care Connect service that there is absolutely no cause to be concerned. The memory stick was fully encrypted, in line with government data protection guidance, to ensure that no one outside the service would be able to access the records.”

He added: “The increase in charges for Care Connect reflects an increase in operating costs of vehicles, fuel etc, together with the significant reduction in government funding support for local authorities.

“However, we believe that the charge remains very competitive within the sector, especially compared to a number of other providers who only offer a monitoring service.

“In contrast, Care Connect will continue to provide monitoring together with a 24/7 response to peoples’ homes whenever we are needed.”