10 Mar 2014

Local hardship fund pays out very little

A hardship fund of £200,000 to help vulnerable residents hit by benefit changes has paid out just £821.49 between three people in nine months. (h/t Dave)

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has approved the three payments despite receiving 172 applications from cash-strapped residents.

The fund was set up after 13,000 benefit claimants in the city were asked to pay at least 30 per cent of their council tax bill for the first time from April 2013.

It is designed to help people in 'extreme circumstances' who are unable to pay for their 'most basic needs'. But council leaders say many applicants were turned down because they spend some of their household income on luxuries such as Sky TV.

Now charity leaders are urging the council to hand out more cash.

Stoke-on-Trent Citizens' Advice Bureau chief executive Simon Harris said:
With the introduction of the new council tax support scheme some people may now have to pay £7 a week which they weren't paying before. That may not sound like a huge amount, but it is if you're on £71 a week Jobseekers' Allowance. The change in the system has certainly created hardship for a lot more people in Stoke-on-Trent. So it is disappointing that so many people have not been able to access this money.
Central Government asked local authorities to set up their own council tax payment schemes this year, but only gave them 90 per cent of the funding for them, while protecting pensioners and other groups.

In Stoke-on-Trent, households previously exempt from council tax must now pay a minimum of 30 per cent. Benefit claimants in Cheshire East and Newcastle must pay 20 per cent.

Gill Brown, chief executive of Hanley-based social charity Brighter Futures, said:
The council simply doesn't have experience of dealing with people who come to them needing this sort of help. My suggestion would be for the council to give a contract to the CAB to administer this fund. I think the council tax support system is a really big issue here, particularly as the scheme is one of the least generous in the country.
Chell Heath Residents' Association chairman Jim Gibson said: "This money should be made more readily available."

The exceptional hardship payments are paid directly into a resident's council tax account.

Councillor Terry Crowe, cabinet member for finance, said:
We are determined to give the best support to people who face genuine hardship. But many people have made claims and then admitted they have spent their available income on other items, like Sky TV hire, rather than paying their council tax. It would be wrong for us to support these lifestyle choices.


Anonymous said...

The CAB are the last people who should administer hardship payments. Thepot would be empty within a month.

Not long ago, I was trying to sort out a repayment plan for a benefit overpayment and some of the monthly "essential outgoings" listed were two mobile phone contacts, a full Sky package and a donation to her church - they refused to scale back any of them as she claimed the local CAB told her these things were acceptable as "essential".

Having dealt with the CAB directly on similar cases, they either connive with their clients, or it's a massive coincidence, so that all the expenditure forms seem to add up to @ £3/week excess.

Anonymous said...

I've seen cigs down on outgoings - "I cant give up".

CAB always offer £1 pw repayment no matter how big the debt.

Anonymous said...

You know why Crisis Loans were stopped? It was the same people applying over and over again,usually men with drug habits.