Vulnerable people struggle to access UK household support fund | UK cost of living crisis

Vulnerable people are struggling to access food stamps and cash grants introduced under a government program to help tackle the cost of living crisis.

The £1billion Household Support Fund (HSF) has been plagued with problems, with councils stuck trying to find viable payment methods to help those in dire need of financial support.

Ministers launched the HSF last autumn, initially pledging £500million and asking local councils to distribute the money to poorer households to help with the costs of food, clothing and utilities. The fund was then doubled in May and extended until the end of September.

David, 31, a social worker from Liverpool, is one of many people who have told the caretaking community about their experience of applying for small government cash grants.

In February, David received a £60 grant from his council for gas and electricity in the form of a paper voucher and instructions to redeem it at a store with a PayPoint.

“I couldn’t cash in on this, despite visiting more than 10 local PayPoint registered stores, all independent corner stores,” he said. “I was told to come back later, that the manager had to allow it, that the ‘system’ was down, I had a wide variety of excuses.

“In the end, I threw out the good one. It was incredibly frustrating.

Nicola, who lives in the borough of Westminster and is on Universal Credit due to a chronic illness, has managed to secure two HSF grants herself, worth £150 each, and has helped various other people from her local Westminster North constituency to navigate what appears to be a Kafkaesque application and redemption process that she described as “a nightmare”.

“The government has come up with this convoluted and chaotic system by giving the money to local authorities, who draw from the fund and then individually distribute the money in various ways as they see fit. It’s a total postcode lottery,” she said.

“In the borough of Westminster you must apply to the Citizens Advice Bureau for household support fund vouchers. In the first cycle, the application process was cumbersome, but you could self-refer and even apply without a national insurance number. In the second round, he was completely bogged down in red tape. Now there’s not even a form to fill in, you have to phone Citizens Advice or be referred by a food bank or charity.

Nicola spent hours on the phone calling helplines asking for vouchers to which she and the people in around 20 households she was helping were entitled. “You have to jump through so many hurdles and you’re exhausted to get those little payments because you’re desperate. It took eight or nine weeks to get the right ones,” she said.

But the problems didn’t stop there. ‘Westminster Borough only issues Sainsbury’s vouchers, which do not help with electricity or gas bills, and you cannot buy infant formula,’ she said.

She added: ‘Then there were many instances where Sainsbury’s staff failed to recognize the vouchers people were bringing into stores, and some people just didn’t have the social capital to champion their cause. .

“These many layers of bureaucracy – it’s ideological, to make it harder for people.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said the company was not aware of any customer complaints or issues with its in-store redeemed gift cards.

PayPoint said its network was disbursing up to 210,000 emergency fund vouchers worth £16million per week and claimed 97% of participating retailers had successfully processed a redemption payment. The company, however, was unable to share the overall cash voucher redemption rate on its network, saying it was sensitive customer information.

“When a council launches a new pick-up program, all retailers in the area receive an email containing samples of the vouchers and a text message notifying them of an expected increase in customer numbers,” the company said, adding that it provides retailers with float funds. and safes on request.

In the “occasional event” that a retailer refuses to process a payment, the company said, typically due to a lack of in-store funds, consumers could visit another PayPoint location with “minimal inconvenience.”

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A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment on the household support fund vouchers and referred to local authorities “who are responsible for distributing the HSF in their area”.

Cllr David Boothroyd, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for finance and council reform, said nearly 2,000 local households had received the vouchers since the scheme was launched.

“As with any program where there has been overwhelming demand, a small number of issues have been raised. In most cases these issues have been resolved and we are working closely with CAB to expand their service,” he added.

“We are not aware of any complaints about Sainsbury’s staff, but we would be happy to investigate.”

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