COUNCILLOR Pete Marland, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Economy and Resources Board, has written to Laura Trott MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on the future of the Household Support Fund (HSF).
The HSF is money from central government which is distributed by councils, to help those most in need. The grant is distributed through small payments to support destitute households meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities.
In his letter, Cllr Marland also expresses the desire of councils “to shift the focus from providing crisis support to investment in prevention to enable councils to improve long-term financial well-being and resilience in their places.”
The full letter reads:
Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
The Future of the Household Support Fund
I am writing to you as the Chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Economy and Resources Board regarding the future of the Household Support Fund (HSF). Councils are united in the view that the fund must be continued beyond March 2024 for a minimum of a year. Crucially, the sector also needs urgent certainty on whether the HSF will be extended to prevent councils having to stand down the staff and the local infrastructure to administer it ahead of March 2024.
HSF continues to provide a vital safety net and is often accessed by residents as a last resort. 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022. Councils and our partners report that demand for local welfare support remains at record levels with the cost of energy, housing and other essentials remaining exceptionally high relative to household income and continuing to rise. We are therefore deeply concerned that ending HSF in March will create a cliff-edge in provision that councils will not be able to fill.
Given the unsustainable cost and demand pressures local government is facing, ending HSF in March could also coincide with many councils having to take the tough decision to scale down their own discretionary welfare provision, resulting in a double blow for struggling households. A significantly reduced local welfare support offer risks more households falling through the gaps into financial crisis, destitution and homelessness and increasing pressure on already overstretched public services, including the NHS, social care and homelessness services.
Through the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, the HSF has allowed councils to significantly extend their local welfare assistance schemes to provide vital support to the growing number of people who are struggling to afford the essentials – including new cohorts like home-owners with mortgages, who have faced a sharp increase in costs but are ineligible for other support. Since the introduction of the scheme, we have welcomed its local delivery. We are also grateful to the government for listening to our feedback on previous rounds of funding and increasing the flexibility of how HSF can be delivered. This has enabled councils to respond flexibly and strategically to local needs to alleviate hardship, prevent escalating crises and work to improve residents’ resilience – including through the provision of advice and referrals to wider employment, housing, energy efficiency, health and welfare services.
As you will know, funding certainty and sufficient lead-in times are essential to allow local government to plan effectively and maximise the benefits of the funding for residents. Without urgent confirmation of whether HSF will be extended, councils will have to start standing down delivery partners and issuing redundancy notices to staff over winter in anticipation of the fund ending in March. This will not allow local government to deliver the best value for money.
Ultimately, we want to shift the focus from providing crisis support to investment in prevention to enable councils to improve long-term financial well-being and resilience in their places. However, in the short-term, the demand for an enhanced local welfare offer and crisis support provision is not reducing. It will continue to be needed beyond March 2024 to keep residents well, support them to stay in and enter work, prevent escalating crises and reduce pressure on public services.
I would therefore be grateful for a meeting with you to discuss the future of HSF, or an equivalent solution to support communities if the funding is discontinued.
Cllr Pete Marland
LGA Economy and Resources Board Chair
* Source: Local Government Association