From early December 2020 until the end of March 2021 English Councils were able to provide additional help to vulnerable households within their area.
£170 million in total was given to County Councils and Unitary Authorities in England who administered the scheme. The money was ring-fenced - ie couldn't be used for anything else, and anything not paid out by the end of March 2021 will need to be paid back,
The government has issued guidance on what can be paid, how, to whom and how to identify potential recipients.
The funds could be used for food, heating, lighting, cooking, water and other essential items such as warm clothing and bedding, soap, boiler repair, purchase of fridges and ovens, and sanitary products. 80% of the money is ring fenced for food, energy and water bills.
Households could be given help either through direct cash payments into bank accounts, vouchers or being given food parcels. Councils were encouraged to work with other organisations to help deliver the scheme, and Job Centre staff were encouraged to support Councils and raise awareness with local partners.
80% of the scheme’s money was intended for households with children – being defined as under 19 or older if their parent is getting Child Benefit or free school meals for them. It also included children living alone. They did not have to be getting benefits to be eligible.
How did Councils find these households?
The guidance says that the LA should try to use the data they have at their disposal, including access to benefits information through the DWP’s searchlight portal, to identify vulnerable households in their area, and find out which have children in them. As the money was not restricted to benefit claimants they should also contact other agencies such as social workers, LA staff involved with the Supporting Families programme (previously called Troubled Families), and utility companies.