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Household Support Fund launched by Ashford Borough Council

Published: 09/03/2022
Couple sitting on a sofa and are worrying about financial struggles

Update as of 31 March 2022

The funding allocated to us for the Household Support Fund has been fully committed and we are not able to accept any new applications for support.

If potential applicants would like support with regards to food then you can visit our information about local food banks, and for other support with regards to food and utilities you can approach the Kent Support and Assistance Service (KSAS).

Original article

Ashford Borough Council has today (20 Jan) launched the Household Support Fund to provide help to those residents of the borough who may be most in need of support this winter.

The Household Support Fund consists of £421 million which has been made available by Government to county councils and unitary authorities in England to support those families who are most in need during the final stages of economic recovery from the pandemic. This funding covers the period 6 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. On 16 December Kent County Council confirmed it was allocating £183,000 to Ashford.

The funding is time limited, it has to be spent or returned by 31 March 2022. With time so short, council officers have been working flat out to establish a simple yet effective scheme to reach those who most need it across our borough.  

We have some discretion about use of the funding while also using Government guidance to scope a scheme for our borough. This is funding via the Department of Work and Pensions and therefore there are monitoring requirements that as a local authority we are responsible for. Our monitoring and returns to KCC about our use of the fund is fed back to Government.

What will it be used for?

It should primarily be used to support households in the most need with food, energy and water bills. It can also be used to support households with essential costs related to those items, such as cookers and white goods and with wider essential costs. The scheme covers a range of vulnerable households, including those with children of all ages and those without children, and is not restricted to those on benefits. 

We are able to use the funding to cover ‘reasonable costs’ for administering the scheme, and this includes if we ask a third party to deliver elements of it. Once the scheme is live is likely to attract significant interest and so strenuous efforts have gone into ensuring the council can resource it accordingly. The Ashford scheme offers:

Energy/utility support – using the Pay Point Function to provide a credit for those households using pre-paid utility meters (key or card payment). The council has this system in place from use for a previous allocation of Winter Fuel Grant in 2020.

Direct payment to utility companies – using BACS payment to pay utility companies direct to clear debt or contribute towards cost of utility.

Provision of clothing, blankets, essential white good items – to be offered through the Home Improvement Agency who work with Ashford on DFG’s and hospital discharge

Assistance to homeowners with boiler repairs or heating replacements – expanding on

current criteria and assistance through the Better Care Fund, removing age and critical/long term illness requirement to enable more assistance

Support with food – provide an allocation of funding to local food banks / charitable organisations who we supported with funding via KCC and Government earlier in the pandemic, as they have a wide catchment and local knowledge to reach those most in need. They also have the ability to bulk purchase supermarket gift cards or extend their food bank offer. We will where possible avoid providing households with cash, it will be payments online, direct to a provider or via a voucher.

Applying to the Household Support Fund

There is an online application process, which collects all the necessary and key details about the household that we have to capture and provide to KCC as part of the reporting process. This will focus on household composition not personal data.

For those unable to access the internet they will be assisted by a Welfare Intervention Officer over the phone to complete a form. All applicants will be expected to provide supporting evidence (bank statements for example) and there will be a time frame of five days to provide this. There is discretion on this timescale but it will be important to have access to all information to enable verification of an application and not to hold up spend.

The scheme is based on set criteria – those who are 16 years and over; living in Ashford; in receipt of a state benefit; have less than £500 in their bank account (to be kept under review to make sure we’re not excluding those who need support); or those who if they purchase food or pay for utilities will be left with no money and put their household at a health and safety or safeguarding risk.  

For food applications it will be £35 per person in the household and £75 towards utilities. If someone is at risk of having their supply cut this can be reviewed. We are not going to limit the number of applications per household but this will be under constant review to ensure that the funding reaches the most amount of people.

We fund the applications and claim money back from the Government

All monies are paid in arrears so it’s important that the monies and scheme are used in the appropriate way. The council must collect the necessary information about spend, even through third parties, to ensure that we receive the funding retrospectively. Depending on the demand it may be necessary to close the applications window for a short period to work through any backlog, review the balance and understand our position.

The council has been quick to start putting this new stream of funding to good use – in December we provided £1,400 to Bright City Churches who sent out 70 hampers for Christmas meals to those in food poverty. Another £500 went to Ashford Vineyard to provide Christmas supplies for families who use their food bank.