Hertfordshire holiday voucher scheme to be extended

The voucher scheme is at the heart of a package of measures that will be funded, until September, through the council’s £6.17m allocation from the governments Household Support Fund.

Families with children eligible for benefits-related free school meals will receive a £15 voucher in the May half term and £60 over the summer.

The government funding will also be used to support the Welfare Assistance Scheme – which offers vouchers to help with food and energy costs.

It will be allocated to support foodbanks – as well as groups that include the homeless, pensioners and those with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Since October 2021 the county council has received more than £30m in grants from the Household Support Fund (HSF). But it is “anticipated” that the fund will end in September this year.

At the meeting cabinet members welcomed Hertfordshire’s latest £6.17m allocation. But they expressed concern about the anticipated end of the fund.

Deputy council leader and executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Fiona Thomson said: “Since 2021 the Household Support Fund has enabled the council to meet demand for support across the county, over and above our  core provision.

“And we are very grateful to DWP, to the government, for this grant.”

She highlighted the plans for £3m to be allocated to support school holiday supermarket vouchers for families receiving benefits-related free school meals, which also includes £30 vouchers issued at Easter.

She pointed to the £1.5m for the Welfare Assistance Scheme, which is available to those in low income households to help with energy and food, and highlighted the £550k in support for food banks and energy support – and  £200k support for homeless persons and survivors of domestic abuse.

Cllr Thomson also recognised the planned support for care leavers and over 19s, and for pensioners on low incomes.

But – with the anticipated end of the HSF – she said a further report would follow that would outline “transition plans” for the programme of support.

She said they were aware that this was the “last tranche of funding”.

Cllr Thomson added that she had written to the Secretary of State twice “outlining the need for this government to continue funding post-September”.

“This is critically important to enable us to support our most vulnerable residents,” she said.

At the meeting the latest allocation was welcomed by fellow members of the council’s Conservative administration. And there were further calls for the fund to continue.

Executive member for adult care health and wellbeing Cllr Tony Kingsbury said he was pleased that the funding would continue for a further six months, from April to September, and thanked Cllr Thomson for writing to the Secretary of State.

Meanwhile executive member for highways and transport Cllr Phil Bibby said: “It’s very important we try and continue this funding with the present government or a new government

“It’s welcome that we get this continued funding, but there there is a cut-off time. It’s time-limited.

“I am sure the beneficiaries will be delighted. But if they don’t receive these funds in future they might struggle. I am sure they will struggle.

“People tend to get used to this sort of funding and therefore it is up to us to make sure it continues.”

And leader of the council Cllr Richard Roberts said he was really pleased that Cllr Thomson had written to the Secretary of State so they could understand what happens in September

The proposed spending plan for the latest £6.17m allocation from the Household Support Fund was backed by the meeting of the cabinet, and will now be submitted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Watford Observer | St. Albans News