Hard-up households which may not have been eligible for cost-of-living support payments from the Government could be in line for financial help from local councils – and it could even come in the form of cash in your bank accounts.
The Government announced it was continuing the Household Support Fund – which provides local authorities with money to pass on to people in need – especially those who may be in dire straits but not have qualified for the cost-of-living payments. At this stage, the councils in our area have yet to spell out how the money will be shared out, but in most areas it will continue to support free school meals for youngsters in the school holidays.
The £842million Household Support Fund is a pot of cash provided by the Government and distributed by local councils to help with the cost of living. Each local authority gets to decide what support it offers its residents – and who is eligible for the help.
As the vouchers or grants on offer vary by location you’ll have to check to see what you can get and how your council will pay you – but at this stage the authorities in the North East are finalising their plans and yet to publish full details. That said, how they used last year’s tranche of cash could be a good guide for what will be available over the next twelve months.
Each council website has a dedicated page set up with details of its Household Support Fund. The Government has so far allocated more than £2billion to the scheme since it first started in October 2021. The Household Support Fund will now run until March 31 next year.
Below ChronicleLive has a run-down of arrangements – as we understand them so far – across the seven North East local authorities:
Newcastle City Council’s webpage highlights that plans for 2023-2024 are yet to be finalised. However, it says: “We have received further funding from the Government’s Household Support Fund.
“Some of this funding has been used to provide Free School Meal vouchers during the Easter school holiday. We will update this page with further information on how the remaining funding will be used in due course.”
In 2022-2023, money was available in a number of ways. Free School Meal vouchers were available during half terms and the winter holidays, while the council used the money to “top up” support for those receiving less than the full £650 cost-of-living payments.
Those eligible received written notification of this by letter. Hardship payments were also available on a limited basis for residents facing “significant financial difficulty” with their utility bills.
Online, Northumberland County Council highlights that people are able to apply for support with food, energy and water bills, essentials linked to energy and water, wider essentials, and housing costs To apply, contact Northumberland Communities Together on 01670 620 015 or email NCT@northumberland.gov.uk
Support for food can be provided in the form of an e-voucher for supermarkets, an electronic “PayPoint” payment linked directly to a mobile phone or tablet, or practical support from food banks or community larders.
Energy support can be in the form of top-up payments processed by Northumberland Citizens Advice, a PayPoint payment, or even via the delivery of appliances such as cookers or fridge freezers, the council says.
Gateshead Council has yet to update its website with details of how the scheme will work in 2023-2023. However, this is what it said about the last financial year:
“It was a Government scheme of £1.8m, which we used to support vulnerable households who were at risk of going cold or hungry this past winter. In particular, we aimed to help people who were not eligible for other Government support.”
The council used the fund through food co-ops, food banks and other food projects, its Warm Spaces programme, and to reconnect energy supplies. Direct help was also provided through Free School Meals during school holidays and a £30 voucher for families eligible for Free School Meals at Christmas.
North Tyneside Council’s website confirms it has been awarded funding for this financial year, but further details are not yet available. Online, this is what the council says: “The Council has been awarded a new Household Support Fund Grant to use from April 2023 onwards to help vulnerable residents with certain costs.
“We are currently developing our plans on how best to support vulnerable residents and will update this page when this plan has been agreed. Please do not telephone about this grant as we will not be able to provide any further information at this time.”
Council meeting reports have confirmed the council has £3.2m to share out. In a March meeting, the council heard how applications can be made on behalf of residents by organisations such as Barbados or Citizens Advice. The cash will also be used to fund “priorities” according to the local authority’s welfare team.
At this stage, South Tyneside Council has also yet to update its online portal as to how the support will be used. However, last year, this is what the council said: “”Grant payments will be made automatically to pensioners on low incomes in receipt of specific benefits and food vouchers provided where a child is in receipt of free school meals to cover the school holiday periods.
“Residents in need that are known to voluntary sector organisations may also be entitled to support. Funding has also been provided to established foodbanks
“Separate to above there is some additional funding which is available through the Council’s ongoing local welfare provision scheme which is subject to an application process. There are details on the Council’s website which can be found under the Cost of Living and Warm Spaces section.”
Sunderland City Council’s website lays out the authority’s current plans for the new funding (referred to as HSF4) as it stands. It says: “The council is currently developing its full plans for this support for agreement by the DWP and will update this webpage when confirmed:
- “It is proposed that this support will again include both automatic payments to some vulnerable households’ together with a separate application process
- “At this stage, the Council and Together for Children have confirmed that they have been able to allocate HSF funding for free school meal vouchers for pupils eligible for means tested free school meals to cover the Easter holiday period
“HSF4 will provide discretionary support rather than being a legal entitlement and all awards are based on available/remaining funding. The majority of HSF4 is also to be targeted at those households’ that will not receive the Governments main Cost of Living Payments.”
Durham County Council is also currently “developing plans” for the cash. A note on its website says: “The council has been awarded a new Household Support Fund grant to use from April 2023 to help vulnerable residents with certain costs.
“We are currently developing our plans on how we best support vulnerable residents and will update this page when this plan has been agreed. Please do not contact us about the 2023/24 grant as we will not be able to provide any further information at this time.”
However, as a guide, in 2022-2023, it used funding to provide food vouchers of £110 to families in receipt of Free School Meals and care leavers, a grant scheme to target support for vulnerable households without children, fuel vouchers, support for groups such as the Gypsy Roma and Traveller community (GRT) and financial backing for food banks and similar organisations.
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