I’m really worried about making ends meet after the Chancellors Spring Statement didn’t offer much. But what’s the Household Support Fund and how can I apply?
The Spring Statement is where the Chancellor sets out how the economy is doing, along with proposals and initiatives to take action where necessary. This year, as the UK faces the biggest cost-of- living crisis in memory, many were hoping that there would be some measures introduced to help people with the rise in bills, tax and cost of living versus inflation. They were largely disappointed.
The Chancellor did announce that the Household Support Fund would be doubled from £500 million to £1 billion. But what is it and what does it mean to you? Here’s an overview.
What is the Household Support Fund?
The Household Support Fund was created last year to provide help for people struggling with their bills or who might fall in a ‘vulnerable’ category.
You apply for a grant from the fund from your local council. The money is provided on a ‘discretionary’ basis, meaning the councils decide who gets what (and how) depending on your circumstance. That means quite a bit of variance around the UK over who gets what.
You might find that you are offered vouchers instead of cash – presumably because councils can get a better deal block buying these from participating retailers.
Will the fund help me clear my bills?
Not necessarily. The way the funds are distributed means your council calls the shots about how the money is handed out – and payments aren’t likely to be huge. Many of the councils I’ve spoken to are talking about payments of up to £200, with mixtures of cash and vouchers offered in many cases.
The payments are designed to help those in need make a dent in key bills like food and energy.
Who qualifies for a payment?
Because the separate councils will be setting criteria depending on the needs within their own catchment areas, there’s a bit of variance here, but you start the process by going through the Council website. Just type ‘Household Support Fund’ in to the search drive.
Because of all the variances, it’s only possible to say who might qualify in very general terms. But as a starting point, if you’re struggling to pay your bills now, classify as ‘vulnerable’ or have kids and money is tight you may be able to claim.
Some councils are only allowing people over 18 to claim though I’m informed that others are allowing people to apply from 16. So in short, don’t assume you’ll be excluded, give it a go.
What about my energy bill?
The scheme is on top of the energy rebate announced already by the Government. That gets you £200 off your bill in October. However, this is not something you can opt out of and you can’t ‘gift the money’ to someone more in need. Oh, and it’s a loan, so we’ll all pay it back at £50 a year for five years from April 2023.
There’s also a £150 discount on your Council Tax bill that will be applied from April. That is a rebate and isn’t repayable.
What about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
The funding is largely being distributed to English councils, though of the first £500 million, just under £80 million was set aside for the devolved nations. We’ll update this guide as soon as we hear more about the plans for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. But in the meantime:
Scotland: there are a range of grants you might qualify for here: https://www.mygov.scot/browse/benefits
Wales: £51 million is being made available with announcements due soon: https://gov.wales/51m-support-fund-help-families-hardest-hit-cost-living-crisis
Northern Ireland: Find out about the existing grants here: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/finance-support
What other help can I get with money difficulties?
Of course, for many people, this simply isn’t going to be enough. Bear in mind that all regulated businesses in the UK have an obligation to help you if you are struggling financially and should come up with plans to help you avoid debt or get some breathing space. Ask if they have an ombudsman or dispute resolution service if they don’t help you enough.
There are lots of great free organisations out there that can help you – though be wary of general searches online as many firms that charge you money pretend to be ‘official’ free services to lure you in.
Money Helper is a new, free service set up to make it quicker and easier to find the right help. It brings together three long-standing government-backed financial guidance providers: the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise. There’s loads of tips, help and yes, you can speak to people too.
You can find all my guides and advice by searching the Mirror.
StepChange is the UK’s most comprehensive free debt advice service. They help you take control of your finances and your lives. Don’t pay for debt services when StepChange is free and for you.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James