Council petitions the government to extend support fund for vulnerable households

Council leader Grace Williams warned that Waltham Forest will be unable to continue providing financial support to vulnerable households if the fund is stopped, reports Marco Marcelline

Credit: Syda Productions via Canva

Waltham Forest Council has launched a petition urging the government to extend the Household Support Fund (HSF) it receives, arguing that it is a “vital lifeline” for the borough’s “most vulnerable residents”.

In her weekly newsletter to residents, council leader Grace Williams said that the government has yet to confirm whether the fund, launched two years ago, would be extended beyond 31st March this year.

The fund is designed to support low-income families and individuals with the cost-of-living crisis, with the council being allocated £4.65 million from the Department of Work and Pensions to spend between April 2023 and 31st March 2024.

According to Cllr Williams, the council has so far spent £4.2million “on a range of services including providing free school breakfasts for 2,135 children, administering over 5,000 targeted payments to vulnerable households, and opening Community Living Rooms”. Community Living Rooms are a collection of free warm spaces across the borough.

In a petition on the website 38 Degrees, the council wrote that “if the HSF is not extended” it “will not be able to make up the funding” and added that “these services will simply not continue”.

Calling the HSF a “vital lifeline” for the borough’s “most vulnerable residents”, Cllr Williams added in the newsletter: “We will continue to stand up for those who need it most, but we have to have the financial support to be able to do so.”

The petition comes amid belt-tightening at the council ahead of the release of its 2024/25 budget in February. In November the council asked its staff to consider taking a voluntary redundancy as it seeks to plug a predicted budget gap of £28m by 2026/27.

Part of the council’s budget woes come from a shortfall in government spending. In the Echo‘s December issue, Cllr Williams wrote that government cuts were making it harder for the council to provide a “safety net” for vulnerable residents.

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Meanwhile in November, the council’s cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan wrote a letter to chancellor Jeremy Hunt asking him to increase the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate so that it covers at least the bottom 30% of market rents. Following wider pressure, Hunt subsequently revealed in his Autumn Statement that LHA rates will be raised to cover the cheapest 30% of properties from April next year.

In response to the petition, Waltham Forest Conservatives leader Emma Best said: “The Conservatives’ Household Support Fund has been a fantastic initiative supporting thousands of residents in our area at times of need. The Waltham Forest Conservative Group supports the call for an extension of the Household Support Fund and remain confident that if financially viable the government will look to extend this programme or fund a similar initiative.”

When contacted for comment, Department for Work and Pensions did not state whether the HSF would be extended beyond March. The department instead said: “We have invested over £2 billion into the Household Support Fund over the last two years – with almost £800 million already paid to families with children to help with the cost of living. The fund is available up until March 2024 and comes on top of a record cost of living support package worth on average £3,700 per household.

“This includes increasing benefits by 6.7% from April, increasing the state pension and increasing Local Housing Allowance to help private renters on Housing Benefit or Universal Credit save nearly £800 on housing costs.

“We have also halved inflation to help everyone’s money go further and cut taxes for hardworking people at the Autumn Statement – saving the average earner £450 a year.”

You can read and sign the petition here. Do you benefit from the fund? Get in touch and tell us how it has helped you at [email protected]

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