The shocking most common reason Lancashire residents have needed the Household Support Fund

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Being unable to afford food is the main reason Lancashire residents have received help from the government’s Household Support Fund (HSF) since it was introduced more than two years ago.

The 12 district authorities in the Lancashire County Council area have spent more on ensuring people have enough to eat than on any of the other essential needs with which they can provide assistance under the initiative, a County Hall cabinet meeting heard.

The county council itself has also used some of the cash it distributes as part of the initiative to supply food vouchers to families to help with the cost of the additional meals they have to provide for their children during the school holidays.

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Demand for all forms of support has been so great in some corners of the county that several district councils have run out of funding before their HSF cash pot has been replenished.

The Hosehold Support Fund offers direct financial help for a range of basic needsThe Hosehold Support Fund offers direct financial help for a range of basic needs
The Hosehold Support Fund offers direct financial help for a range of basic needs

The fund was launched in October 2021 - as cost-of-living pressure began to bite - and has been extended on five occasions since. The government announced at last month’s budget that the scheme would continue for at least a further six months, until the end of September. County Hall has been allocated £9.7m for that period.

While the county council retains some of the money to fund its automatically-provided school holiday vouchers - including for some pre-school children - and other Lancashire-wide support with household goods and energy schemes, much of it is distributed to district authorities to issue at their discretion in response to applications.

County Cllr Michael Green, the cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said that while food support accounted for most of the spending in each district, there was less consistency in other aspects of the help required in each area.

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He stressed the importance of councils being able to meet “local demand” where that differs across Lancashire. Some will also choose to funnel their allocations through community organisations and by supporting food banks.

As well as food provision, HSF cash is eligible to be used to assist with a wide range of issues - including energy and clothing bills, the purchase and repair of essential household items and, in some circumstances, housing costs. Debt and employment advice may also be offered, as well as help to replace electrical items which are not energy efficient and so costly to run.

Labour opposition group deputy leader Lorraine Beavers said the government’s six-month HSF extension was “too short” and made it difficult for district councils to plan appropriately. However, County Cllr Green, from the ruling Tory group, said the authority had been working with districts in advance of the fresh allocation of cash coming through.

It will now be up to deputy county council leader Alan Vincent and the authority's director of public health to decide how the latest round of HSF cash will be utilised in Lancashire - including how much will be issued to district councils.

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A report presented to cabinet members warned that the short timeframe since the budget announcement of the HSF extension meant funding had not been “fully available to households across the whole county from 1st April”. Some district councils will also need to recruit temporary staff to administer distribution of the funds.

Anybody wishing to seek help from the HSF should approach their local council.

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