Support fund is latest cuts casualty

By Ian Dipple Friday 28 February 2014 Updated: 28/02 09:23

A VITAL support fund for some of the most vulnerable people in the borough is being axed.

The Government says from 2015 it no longer plans to continue with the Local Welfare Assistance Fund which allows councils to help those facing crisis situations including families under threat of homelessness, domestic abuse, struggling to eat or afford household essentials.

The fund was only introduced in April last year, replacing the previous crisis loans system, and saw Redditch Borough Council given a government grant of £202,906 and told to design its own support scheme.

So far 1,360 applications have been made to the Essential Living Fund and support has been given in the form of vouchers for appliances, food vouchers and fuel top-ups to make the money last longer.

The Government say councils will still get the money as part of their overall funding settlement but it will not be ring-fenced. However as councils are unlikely to get an overall increase in their funding from 2015/16 it will add further pressure to their already stretched budgets.

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said helping people at an early stage prevented complex problems developing later which would be more costly to solve.

“Local authorities are working hard to support the most vulnerable in society while managing the biggest cuts in living memory to funding for services. For some councils, providing crisis payments to those in need from local service budgets is likely to be a stretch too far.”

Borough council leader Bill Hartnett added: “We are not aware of any plans to replace ELF but I can assure our residents we will explore all options to make sure support continues to be available for our most vulnerable residents.”

A Government spokesman insisted councils would continue to support those facing financial difficulties or in unavoidable circumstances.

“In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how to best to support local welfare needs within their areas. The Government continues to provide support to local authorities through general funds as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing ring-fencing and ending top-down Whitehall control.”

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