THE COMPANY behind a new meals on wheels service has apologised after elderly residents were left waiting hours longer for their lunches.
Deliveries to 1,350 elderly and vulnerable people across Essex were taken over by caterer Sodexo on Monday October 1, after the company landed a three-year county council contract worth £6 million.
The deal replaces a five-year contract with the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS), which was worth £15 million.
Meals on Wheels user Eric Wackett, 90, said his lunch had arrived late every day since last week's changeover.
"It's not so good. It's all upside down," said Mr Wackett, of Eastbrook Road, Waltham Abbey.
"It's been late every day since they started. It's been coming an hour later than what it used to.
"I've been getting my dinner round about two o'clock, or a bit later."
Christina Paley, 65, said her 91-year-old mother Jane, who lives in Abridge, had also seen a drop in service since Monday.
"One day she got her lunch at three o'clock," said Mrs Paley, of Willingale Road, Debden.
"If they could just give these people a bit of routine, then their families would know what was going on and could take them out. That would be a big, big help.
"It's really old vulnerable people who are not being treated awfully well."
She said she hoped service would improve as the new contractors settled in, but felt it standards had dropped since the WRVS closed its Loughton centre in 2010, handing over deliveries to its Pitsea branch.
"It used to be all the local ladies and I know when they lost the contract they were terribly upset. This is how it is each time it changes," said Mrs Paley.
"We have local people that would gladly volunteer to deliver the meals."
A Sodexo spokeswoman admitted the company had experienced 'teething problems'.
She said: "We did write to residents in September saying that we anticipated that the first week would be challenging as staff adapted to a number of changes.
"These included brand new vehicles and rounds. So far this week more than 96 per cent of meals have been delivered during the allocated time of between 12 noon and 2pm, but sadly there have been some delays in delivering a small number of meals and we apologise to those affected and will refund any late meals.
"Importantly the situation has greatly improved and once the new service has completely bedded down we look forward to providing new menus with more choice and additional services including cleaning, shopping and ironing."
Essex County Council leader Cllr Peter Martin said: “During the course of last week Essex County Council staff have been working closely with the new Meals on Wheels provider Sodexo to improve delivery times.
"There has been a significant improvement over the course of last week. On Friday more than 97% of the meals were delivered on time and all meals were delivered by 2.20pm.
"Sodexo are committed to ensuring this performance improves to 100%.”