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Lib Dems Force U-Turn on Crisis Payments to Most Vulnerable

February 12, 2013 5:43 PM

Liberal Democrats on Wiltshire Council prevented Wiltshire's Cabinet stopping 'crisis loans', an essential life line for Wiltshire's most vulnerable.

Speaking at WC cabinet today, Cllr Jon Hubbard, Leader of the Wiltshire Liberal Democrats, made an impassioned plea on behalf of those who could not afford to feed their children this month.

Cllr Hubbard said, "After my intervention the Cabinet are going to reassess the scrapping of cash payments as part of the crisis loan scheme. Crisis loans are the safety net for Wiltshire families who literally cannot afford to put food on the table or charge their electricity meter. Crisis loans are small, but they are essential to those in greatest need.

"Without crisis loans we are pushing families into the clutches of loan sharks and spiralling debt and intimidation."

Cllr Hubbard also secured a concession on the appeal period for people refused crisis loans. Wiltshire Council were set to agree that appeals needed to be made on the spot, but the Cabinet agreed to Cllr Hubbard's plea to increase the appeal period to 24 hours.

Cllr Hubbard added, "Imagine a young mum who cannot afford to put food on the table. She is at her wits end and needs time and independent advice on how to appeal a crisis loan rejection. I'm proud to say she will now get that time rather than being forced to enter an instant appeal that is doomed to failure."

The background to this story is that the government has scrapped Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans. These were available to help people in desperate situations who had nowhere else to turn to to avoid destitution. From March local councils will administer a replacement scheme called 'Local Welfare Provision'. The government has given Wiltshire Council money to do this - £619,000 this year plus £131,000 to cover administration costs. WC's proposal was not to give cash to people in need but to use foodbanks and charities to provide basic necessities.

The money from the government is not ring-fenced so could be used for other purposes by the council. Although levels of demand mean the council is unlikely to make a profit even when relying on charities to step in, the council has threatened to tighten eligibility criteria to save money. People already have to fill out a lengthy application form to prove their state of destitution.

Historically the data shows that nearly half of all successful applications to the previous scheme were from disabled people, with the majority of applicants being relatively young (26% in the 25 - 34 age group and 86% under 54).