Lancashire County Council has provisionally been awarded £9.6m from the Household Support Fund and the authority’s cabinet has agreed to hand over around a third of it to lower-tier councils, like Preston, Chorley and South Ribble, for them to distribute to those deemed to be most in need.
All of the authorities making payments from the fund will be subject to criteria laid down by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As well as food and fuel costs, support can also be provided for other essential expenses and, in exceptional circumstances, for housing bills.
At least half of the overall funding received by Lancashire County Council must be used to support vulnerable households with children.
County Hall has yet to finalise how it will spend the share that it will retain - although it has already decided that £1.7m will be used to provide vouchers to families of children eligible for free school meals to help them with additional costs during the Christmas holidays and February half term next year. A similar scheme was rolled out during the October half term last month, bringing the total used for that purpose to £2.3m
The cabinet meeting heard that money is being allocated to district councils so that it can be given out via the local “distribution networks“ known to them.
However, Labour’s Mark Clifford - county councillor for Clayton with Whittle and a Chorley borough council - questioned how much consultation has taken place with district councils over the shares they would receive and asked whether these could be increased.
Conservative deputy county council leader Alan Vincent said he was “surprised” by the question - because the issue had not been raised by any of the lower-tier authorities and there had been meetings with their representatives about allocations from the fund.
He added: “District colleagues were clear that they had local needs information...that would be of real benefit and they wanted to receive a proportion of the funding for distribution via their existing channels.”
County Cllr Vincent said that there were “ongoing discussions” about how the so-far-unallocated funding would be used.
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali suggested some of the cash could be awarded to support voluntary organisations in Lancashire which had been left “on the edge” as a result of the pandemic. County Cllr Vincent said that the authority would explore whether that was “doable”, but warned of the complications caused by the rules governing how the funding is spent.
The money has to be used in full by the end of March next year. The Household Support Fund was established by the government after criticism of the decision last month to end the £20 per week Universal Credit top-up payment that had been introduced as a temporary measure at the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the county council’s cabinet also voted to extend its own local £20 uplift to an allowance for young people leaving the care system, which was introduced at the same time as the Universal Credit increase. It will now run until the end of January 2022.
A report to members stated that “ending the temporary increase...at this time would create additional hardship for this group of young care leavers, due to the uncertainty of the continued impact of the pandemic over the winter period, young care leavers still developing their budgeting skills and therefore struggling with uncertainty, and unplanned changes and living expenses increasing over the winter due to higher utility payments”.
The allowance is paid to young people who were in county council care aged 16 or 17, but now live in independent or semi-independent accommodation. It is also given to relevant care leavers aged between 18 and 25 for a period of five weeks to cover the “waiting period” from making their first ever Universal Credit claim.
Cabinet member for children and families Cosima Towneley said that the authority's hope was that “all our care leavers can be placed either in further education, work or training”.
HOUSEHOLD SUPPORT FUND ALLOCATIONS TO DISTRICT COUNCILS
Ribble Valley £90,000
South Ribble £210,000
West Lancashire £240,000