Agenda item

Update on use of hardship funds - Libby Jarrett, Assistant Director Revenues & Benefits


The Assistant Director Revenues & Benefits and the Benefits Manager provided a verbal update on the use of hardship funds including:

·        The Housing Support Fund which started 1 October 2022 and runs to 31 March 2023.  Funding was split into two parts; the first for targeted support, the second was open applications.  It is expected that the full allocation will be spent by 31 March.

·        The Housing Support Fund which starts on 1 April 2023.  A paper has been prepared for the 29 March Cabinet meeting with an update on the proposed policy. 

·        The Council Tax Reduction Scheme.  The scheme was reviewed for working age residents and changes were made to take effect from 1 April, including i) to raise the amount of support that residents could receive if they fall into income band 1, from 85% to 100%; and ii) to amend the income bandwidths to allow for couples, where previously they were aligned to single persons applicable amounts.  The changes have resulted in 2,301 households no longer needing to pay any Council Tax from April, and the biggest group to benefit from the changes are households where there are children present. 

·        The Council Tax Support Fund.  This fund was announced in the 2022 autumn statement to help households with the cost of living and rises in Council Tax bills.  Government have set the criteria for the funding which ensures that households who were in receipt of Council Tax Reduction received up to £25 off their bills, as long as they had something left to pay.  Many households had nothing left to pay, therefore it was possible to raise the amount of support up to £55.

·        The Council’s Cost of Living Hardship Fund.  A further £63k of funding has been received from Devon County Council in the form of an Economic Vulnerability Fund and it is intended to start using this funding to do more proactive work with partners, to reduce root courses of poverty and hardship.


Discussion and clarification included the following points:

·        There appears to be enough money from the Household Support Fund to meet identified demand, and it has been possible to make the allocation last for the whole term of the fund; there is a lot of extra follow-up work, with partners, to give budgeting and debt advice, and the move away from a sticking-plaster approach means that the same people are not needing to repeatedly apply to the fund.   

·        A Financial Resilience Officer is now present in an Exmouth food bank for one day every fortnight, and this has been very effective in identifying residents needing advice and support.  Going forward, the Assistant Director Revenues & Benefits will arrange for the value of this work to be assessed in order to then explore whether the work can be scaled up. 

·        A Member expressed concern that private landlords with mortgages on rental properties appeared to be considering evicting their tenants and instead going into the tourist market, as has been the case in Cornwall and North Devon.  This would lead to a lot of people becoming homeless, and it would be helpful for the Council to be aware of potential issues before they arise.