(Cabinet Member with Special Responsibility Councillor Whitehead)
Report of Head of Shared Service
Cabinet received a report from the Head of Shared Service that sought approval to spend residual funds (£347k) from the Council Tax Hardship Fund in line with the recommendations, setting up a new “Lancaster District Hardship Fund” to financially support residents who have found themselves vulnerable and in financial hardship during the pandemic. Details of the scheme were set out in Appendix A to the report.
The options, options analysis, including risk assessment and officer preferred option, were set out in the report as follows:
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the Government allocated funds to local Councils to support residents financially, initially with the primary aim of helping working age residents in receipt of LCTS pay their Council Tax. The Council has distributed funds in excess of Government expectations and is now free to support other projects with residual funds
Option 1 – Agree to the proposal as recommended
The scheme sets out a formal approach to distributing residual funds and follows a tried and tested path similar to arrangements put in place by Government in the form of its Household Support Fund this last financial year. The approach adopted seeks to maximise use of funds in an open and equitable way across a number of service areas, and therefore risks associated with any challenge are considered small and manageable.
Option 2 – Suggested amendments to scheme principles
Any amendments would need to have regard to Council priorities and government guidance, allowing extra time for re-consideration of an amended policy. The Household Support fund comes to an end on 31 March 2022 and it would be good to have a local scheme in place at the earliest opportunity to continue to offer support to those most in need.
Option 3 – Do nothing and return residual funds to the Government.
A blanket policy of returning funds to Government is not an option when residents in the district continue to struggle to pay their bills and finance household necessities.
The pandemic has refocussed the Council’s attention on the needs of the community and the way those needs, however simple, are serviced. It is recommended that Option 1 be approved. The scheme enables a formal approach to decision making, with criteria in line with Council priorities, offering financial support to those most in need of help.
Councillor Whitehead proposed, seconded by Councillor Lewis:-
“That the recommendations, as set out in the report, be approved.”
Councillors then voted:-
(1) That the residual balance of £347k from the Covid-19 Council Tax Hardship Reserve Fund be committed to assist residents in the district who have suffered hardship during the COVID-19 Pandemic and continue to struggle financially.
(2) That the Lancaster District Hardship Fund principles, as set out under Appendix A to the report be approved.
(3) That the spending be in line with the Lancaster District Hardship Fund, with cost to be met from the Covid-19 Council Tax Hardship Reserve Fund, up to the value of £347k.
Officers responsible for effecting the decision:
Head of Shared Service
Chief Finance Officer
Reasons for making the decision:
The principles of the scheme are in line with Council priorities, with the fund:
· helping to address health and income inequalities, food and fuel poverty, mental health and loneliness.
· focusing on early intervention (as it is proactive rather than reactive.)
· assisting partnership working with residents and local organisations.
· used innovatively to deal with the issues some of our residents are experiencing.
· also providing good value for money through the buying power of the food poverty alliance.
The proposals as set out are considered a good use of remaining funds, to achieve the greatest benefit for those suffering financial hardship.