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Council Hardship Fund to provide relief to those in emergency poverty situation

30 September 2022
Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council have given their approval at this month’s Full Council meeting for the implementation of a Hardship Fund which will direct financial support to households across the Council area who find themselves in an emergency situation with fuel poverty.
 
Elected members ratified a paper that was presented to members of the Health and Community Committee earlier in the month that recommended they approve a budget of £258,000 for a Discretionary Emergency Fuel Support Programme, to be delivered through a referral system in partnership with the three local Advice Service Providers who are currently commissioned by the Council to deliver advice services.
 
Approval was also given for £50,000 to be allocated to Advice Service Provision to assist with the delivery of the Discretionary Emergency Fuel Support Programme as well as the provision of additional advice services.
 
Elected Members also voted in favour of a proposal for Council to write to all energy companies seeking financial donations to local charities to assist with the cost of living crisis and also to the Department of Communities and the Department for Education to seek concessionary travel for school pupils.
 
Elected Members at the Health and Community Committee earlier this month were provided with some background information on the Hardship Fund which was set up at the request of members who established a Hardship Fund Working Group. This group engaged with local support organisations, regional charities and statutory partners to design the eligibility criteria, the referral process and delivery approach for the emergency fuel support programme.
 
They were advised that given the scale of the cost of living crisis and the level of funding available, any support provided from the Council’s Hardship fund can only provide relief to those in an emergency situation.
 
It was outlined at the meeting that while details of the £400 energy discount announced by the UK Government has not yet been confirmed, local support organisations are continuing to provide advice on other forms of financial support but the situation is stark as the level of support is inadequate to meet the excessive rising costs.
Information around eligibility, the referral process and equality of the distribution of funds across the Council area, as well as the legal and audit constraints facing Council in allocating a Hardship Fund by Council were also discussed.
 
Oonagh McGillion, Director of Legacy with Derry City and Strabane District Council explained that Council considered options in terms of these issues and had arranged meetings with local support organisations, regional charities and statutory partners to help co-design criteria and referral process.  Taking into account all the challenges and the scale of need across the Council area, it was agreed the Hardship Fund should have two priorities – further assistance of £50k towards advice services and £258k towards a discretionary emergency fuel support programme.
 
The Fuel Support Programme will operate by a referral system with each DEA receiving an allocated amount based on the Council’s existing grant aid allocation template and will be allocated by a charity.
 
Referrals for this discretionary emergency fuel support can be made by any local support organisation in the DEAs, or a local school, or church or charities or an individual can make a self referral. These referrals should be submitted to any one of the three Advice Service Partners and these are Advice NW, Dove House or Resource Centre (Carnhill) Derry. Once the emergency support programme goes live the referral forms will be available on-line from the Council website or by contacting one of the three advice service providers. When a referral is received by the Advice Services Provider contact will be made with the household in need to check their eligibility for the programme.
 
Members were advised that this is not a general fuel support programme but has been specifically designed for emergency situations when a household is unable to financially pay for a fuel bill or to get a top up. Therefore every effort should be observed in only making referrals for those households in need of an emergency payment.
 
Each referral is checked for eligibility  and if the household meets the criteria, it is sent by the Advice Service Provider to Council’s Fuel Payment Partner for processing. The Fuel Payment Partner makes the payment of up £100 to the energy supplier on behalf of the household or provides a credit voucher for top up for the fuel type to the household. There is no ranking in the assessment of eligibility and the programme will operate on a first come basis. A household can only receive one payment. It has been agreed that only one of the eligibility criteria need to be fulfilled to be considered eligible for the emergency fuel support.
 
The eligibility criteria includes the following:
·        A member of the household is entitled to Free School Meals;
·        The household in in debt with an energy provider;
·        There is a vulnerable person in the household;
·        A member of the household has recently been become unemployed;
·        A member of the household is on a zero hour contract;
·        The gross annual income of the household is less than £40,000
It was agreed that the fund would be distributed across all the DEAs using the existing template of Deprivation, Population and Rurality as previously approved by the Council. The budget of £258,000 minus a £10,000 administration budget, will be allocated as follows –
·        Ballyarnett -17.456% - £43,291
·        Derg - 12.874% - £31,928
·        Faughan - 10.035% -£24,887
·        Foyleside - 10.329% -£ 25,616
·        Moor - 15.546%  -£38,554
·        Sperrin - 8.380% - £20,782
·        Strabane -9.441% -£ 23,414
·        Waterside - 15.939% £39,529
Members were advised that ongoing engagement was continuing with the advice services providers on the referral and assessment approach while a procurement process was ongoing to secure a charity to provide the fuel payment role.
 
The proposed timeline for the delivery of the Discretionary Emergency Fuel Support Programme is from the end of October once the Fuel Payment Partner has been appointed.
Elected Members were reminded that the overall budget of £308,000 was sourced from Council as follows - £200,000 from additional regional support grant one off allocation from 21/22; £40,000 from elected members allowance savings; £68,000 from reallocated year end surplus as per GSP Committee.
 
Further details on the Emergency Fuel Payment Support Programme will be published on the Council’s website once it goes live.
 
The contact details the three Local Advice Services are:
Advice North West FREEPHONE: 0300 303 3650
Dove House  02871269327
The Resource Centre (Carnhill) Derry  02871352832