FEARS for the elderly have been raised after it was revealed the price of meals-on-wheels may go up.

Essex County Council has started a consultation with the users of the service across the county and wants to raise the price of meals from £3.95 to the full cost of £4.79.

If the hikes were to go ahead, 71 residents in Brentwood and surrounding areas would be affected.

The council has ruled out axing the service, understood to cost £260,000 a year, but has said the number taking up the meals has dwindled.

In 2013/13, 310,510 meals were delivered across Essex, down from 367,920 hot dinners the previous year.

Currently, people pay £3.95 for each meal with County Hall paying an additional subsidy of 84p.

The council would not confirm how much it would save by removing the subsidy, but it does have a £200million shortfall in funding estimated over the next four years.

The hike means County Hall no longer has to subsidise the service, but concerns have been raised it will hit the elderly hard.

David Kendall, county councillor and Brentwood borough councillor, has urged people to take part in the consultation process.

He said: “I am concerned that the County Council may consider increasing the price of a meal when it was only a couple of years ago when we had the last increase in February 2012.

“This service is a very important lifeline for many vulnerable people in our community and I would not support any increase in the price at this moment in time".

The consultation will also explore alternative ways of providing a hot meal with community support options such as lunch clubs and community groups.

The consultation will run until Monday, July 7. Customers will be posted a copy, but it can also be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/lku6d7h