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Crisis loans used by thousands of families on breadline in Kent and Medway to be axed

26 February 2014
by Paul Francis

An emergency fund that helps thousands of families in Kent with crisis loans is to be axed by the government.

The scheme is administered by councils and offers critical short-term support to residents such as money for food.

Figures obtained by KentOnline reveal that between April and December last year, Kent County Council provided more than 4,000 people with emergency grants totalling £940,000.

Families might struggle to get crisis loans for mounting bills

Families might struggle to get crisis loans for mounting bills

However, it received 6,700 applications - meaning 2,674 were rejected.

Of those granted, 3,658 were to help residents buy food, with other grants being awarded to help with energy bills and travel.

In some cases, applicants have been provided with small amounts of cash. Typically, money is given to those who may already be on benefits.

In Medway, the council has received 954 applications since taking over the scheme from the government.

Of these, nearly 400 residents received grants totalling £77,000.

But the government is to drop the scheme and will no longer support what is known as the Local Welfare Assistance Fund.

Councils are lobbying the government to reverse its decision, arguing the scheme helps vulnerable people and often prevents short-term prospects escalating.

Cllr Gordon Cowan, KCC Labour group leader

Cllr Gordon Cowan, KCC Labour group leader

Cllr Gordon Cowan, KCC Labour group leader, said: "This is absolutely devastating. A decision to scrap this scheme will only make it more difficult for those who really need these funds.

"People apply because they are often desperate to just get food on the table."

Cllr Vince Maple, Labour group leader on Medway Council, said: "This is the worst possible time to do this.

"Quite often, these grants are made to people trying to re-integrate into society and these interventions may well save the system much more money than might be needed further down the line if problems escalate."

A government spokesman said: "Councils will continue to provide support to those in their community who face financial difficulties or who find themselves in unavoidable circumstances.

Medway Labour leader Vince Maple

Medway Labour leader Vince Maple

"In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how to best to support local welfare needs within their areas - what is right for inner London will not be for rural Cumbria."

The statement added: "The government continues to provide support to local authorities through general funds as part of the government's commitment to reducing ring-fencing and ending top-down Whitehall control."

Medway Council said the matter would be considered by councillors "in due course".

Its scheme is run by West Kent Extra in Medway and the contract with them runs for 2014/15.

"We have funding for this period so don't expect an imminent change in Medway," it said.

Chris Coffey, head of youth and community services at homelessness charity Porchlight said: “The Social Fund which ended in 2012 was replaced by the current Kent Support and Assistance Service.

"This service has been beneficial to many people in crisis who don't have access to savings or family who can help out.

"We are concerned for the future as it is unclear what system will be put in place to help people in desperate need.

What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below“Any future provision needs to also allow quick access to rent in advance payments (as the previous social fund did) for people looking to move into their own private-rented accommodation.

"Without this, we often have situations where people are ready to move on but simply can’t find the money to do so.

"They can’t begin to live independently and we can’t free up a room for someone else in need.”

Cllr Mike Hill (Con), KCC cabinet member for communities, was unable to say if KCC would fund a similar scheme.
"We are disappointed," he said. "There is an option for us to continue some sort of scheme, but there will have to be a discussion about what we can afford.
"In my view, the scheme has been a success and has served a very useful purpose and was particularly useful during the recent floods." 

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