The council’s cabinet yesterday agreed (Tuesday 11th November) to continue the ‘Essential Living Fund (ELF)’ up to March 2019 by using an earmarked reserve that has been built up in anticipation of Government funding stopping in April 2015.
The award-winning ELF was devised when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) devolved its ‘Social Fund’ system to local councils, but central funding is likely to stop next year.
The ELF provides a range of non-cash, grant based support to low income and vulnerable members of the local community including:
· Supermarket food vouchers for families
· Local businesses providing white goods
· All pay cards for fuel top ups
· Furniture and household furnishing provided by local charities
· Dedicated phone line for people to make prompt claims in emergencies and an online claim form for non-emergencies
Cllr Ian Gilbert, Executive Councillor for Community Development, says:
“The Government has put all local authorities in a very difficult position, by giving us all of the responsibility for this, but no funding beyond March 2015.
“This fund provides a safety net for some of our poorest and most vulnerable members of society or people that are perhaps experiencing unexpected hardship and need crisis support. It should not be underestimated the impact this fund had and it was absolutely vital to find a way to keep it going, so I am delighted that we have managed to do that.
“Officers have built up an award winning scheme also used by Thurrock and Essex Councils and it is a scheme that has evolved over the last year to also include digital training to help residents claim online and meet Job Centre commitments, free cookery courses and travel cost for people fleeing domestic violence. I am delighted that we have been able to do the right thing and commit funding for this until at least 2019.”
In 2013/14, the council made awards to 1,525 residents for assistance from the Essential Living Fund. Of these 487 were to enable people to move back into the community from temporary accommodation such as hostels, domestic violence units, leaving care, prison and bail hostels. Without the funding, these claimants would not have been able to move from temporary accommodation, which costs the council £300 a week on average.
The scheme has also delivered crisis support to another 1,038 households such as the provision of furniture, food and/or fuel. These awards help people through a period of unexpected hardship that could destabilise their lives and lead to desperation, debt and mental health crisis.
Up to 31st October 2014, 1,110 residents have been assisted. The earmarked reserve is £1.4m which would fund the scheme at £350,000 a year to 2019.