Free school meals and help with bills extended until September as Covid grant scheme gets £160million boost

FAMILIES in England can get extra help paying for food and utility bills after the government extended its Covid support scheme.

The end of the Covid Local Support Grant has been delayed to September, with an additional £160m given to councils to hand out to families in need.

The grants can cover the cost of food, bills and other essentialsCredit: Getty – Contributor

The extra funding brings the total amount handed to local authorities to £429.1million since the scheme was launched in December.

It also brings the end date in line with other coronavirus-related support initiatives such as furlough.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on some families’ finances, for example due to job losses, illness or reduced working hours.

Councils can use the money to fund food vouchers and utility bill payments, such as heating, for families struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

How to cut your bills

IF you’re struggling financially, you might be able to cut the cost of your bills to help you get out of the red.

Council tax: You can apply for a council tax reduction on the website but you’ll need to meet certain criteria. Your bill could be cut by as much as 100 per cent if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. Carers who look after someone in the household for at least 35 hours a week are also exempt from paying.

Water: Households might be able to save money by getting a water meter but it all depends on how much you’re using. To check if it’s finacially worthwhile, use the Consumer Council for Water’s free ater meter calculator.

Rent: If you have the space available and your landlord or local authority says it’s ok to do so, you might want to consider getting a flatmate. Not only will you split the cost of the rent, but also the other bills.

Hire purchase: If you’re struggling to make your repayments on your hire purchase, you can usually end the contract by returning the goods. You will have to pay all the instalments due up to the time you end the agreement but this will limit the amount you owe. Contact Citizens Advice for free for more help with this.

Gas and electricty: MoneySavingExpert says families can save £330 on average by switching from Standard Variable Tariffs (SVTs) to a better rate. Use a comparison site such as MoneySuperMarket or Energyhelpline to see what deals are available.

Mortgage: If you get into debt with your mortgage payments, don’t wait for your lender to chase you. Work out what you can afford using the Citizens Advice budgeting tool so you can discuss your payment options moving forward with your mortgage provider.

Secured Loan: Your secured loan might be covered by the Consumer Credit Act and if it is, you may be able to apply for a Time Order. This is a special agreement by the courts allowing you more time to make payments. Secured loans not covered by the Consumer Credit Act include gas, electricity or water meters, payments that need to be written off in full, mortgages, credit union loans, loans from an employer and some short term trade agreements.

County Court Judgements: If you receive a County Court claim form talk to a free debt advice service straight away. This includes Citizens Advice (0808 800 9060), StepChange (0800 138 1111) and the National Debtline (0808 808 4000).

TV licence: Some households are eligible for a reduced fee or free TV Licence. Check here to see if you are entitled to a reduced or free rate.

The grant was first launched in December as the Covid Winter Support Grant, but has been extended several times since.

Between December 2020 and mid-April, almost 6.3million payments went to vulnerable households in England.

Across England 92% of funding has been provided to families with children, and 94% of funding has been used to support households with food or utility bills.

Will Quince, the minister for welfare delivery, said: “This grant is ensuring that thousands of families get help with food and essential utility bills as we move back towards normality.”

How to get help

Central government has provided different amounts to each council, allowing each to take their own approach to distributing the funding.

But least 80% of the total funding is ring-fenced to support households with children.

Up to 20% is set aside for other households suffering from poverty in the pandemic.

The majority of the cash has to be spent on food and bills, but 20% can be put towards buying other essentials.

This could include sanitary products, warm clothing and purchasing essential kitchen appliances.

The funding has been provided by central government but it is the responsibility of local councils to hand out the grants to those in need.

Each council has also received a different amount depending on the size and needs of the population.

For example, Birmingham Council has been given an extra £4.9million in the latest round of funding, bringing its total to £13.1million.

But the affluent London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames has received £850,267 in total, and was handed £317,042 for the final months of the scheme.

This means that each local authority has different criteria for applications and eligibility.

However, there are some similarities across most councils.

For example, if your child usually qualifies for free school meals in term time, it is likely that you will be able to access food vouchers during the school holidays.

To find out what is available in your area and whether you can access support, you should contact your local authority.

You can find your local council online here.

Each council should have outlined the application process on their website, but you should contact them via phone or email if it is not clear.

The government has confirmed there will be a fifth grant to help self-employed workers.

The furlough scheme is still set to end in September, despite the extension of lockdown restrictions.

Renters are facing eviction after landlords were given the go ahead to resume proceedings against tenants.

Furloughed workers not returning to work after enjoying lockdown break hindering economy’s ‘bounce back, warns Leadsom


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