A new £500 million Household Support Fund (HSF) for vulnerable UK households was launched by the DWP on 6 October. It will last until 31 March 2022 and may be a very important lifeline for some Benefits and Work readers over the winter.
However, the fund is being administered by local authorities who have very wide discretion in how they distribute money, so local research will be needed to discover if you might be able to get help.
The Household Support Fund (HSF) was launched with virtually no detail at very short notice to head off a potential backbench conservative revolt against the ending of the £20 UC uplift last week.
It has been condemned by charities as merely a sticking plaster and a hastily cobbled together attempt to save face by ministers. But for struggling households even this short-term support cannot be ignored.
In England the money is being given to county councils and unitary authorities. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide how to distribute their share of the funds.
Each local authority can draw up its own procedures and targets for awarding payments, as long as they stay within the DWP’s overall guidelines.
The money should be primarily be used to help pay for food, energy and water bills for vulnerable households, but other costs can also be covered.
Amongst the possible items listed in DWP draft guidance are:
- sanitary products,
- warm clothing,
- boiler service/repair, purchase of equipment including fridges, freezers, ovens,
- broadband and phone bills,
- essential transport-related costs such as repairing a car, buying a bicycle or paying for fuel,
- housing costs
At least 50% of the money has to go to households with children. But the remainder can go to households without children, including people living alone. The funds are not restricted to people in receipt of benefits. Not is there any requirement that you must be employed or that you must be unemployed.
Councils can identify households they regard as vulnerable using data they already hold, request applications for support from other agencies or from individuals or use a mixture of all these methods.
So, it is likely that some authorities will accept grant applications from individuals and others will not.
Awards can be made to the same household for different types of expense and multiple awards can be made to the same household.
Whatever approach they use, councils must have “a clear rationale or documented policy/framework outlining their approach including how they are defining eligibility and how households access the scheme.”
Councils have until 29 October to provide the DWP with a plan setting out how they will distribute their share of the funds. At some point most will hopefully publish information online as well.
At the moment it is likely that most local authorities are scrabbling to come up with a plan to award the funds. We would be grateful for any information from readers about what is happening in their local area.
There is a press release on the Household Support Fund on the .gov website