Fund helping prevent hardship in North Yorkshire

A fund is proving successful in helping vulnerable residents and families overcome financial emergencies which might otherwise result in them having to leave their homes and communities.

A rural view of North Yorkshire

The North Yorkshire Local Assistance Fund (NYLAF) helps local residents overcome a financial emergency which would otherwise result in them having to move out of the county or a family being split up. It helps people experiencing mental health problems, domestic abuse or physical disabilities, as well as people recently released from prison, or those facing homelessness.

The fund was previously managed by central government, but is now managed by North Yorkshire County Council.

Awards are made in-kind, for instance replacing white goods such as a fridge, cooker or heater which has broken down, preventing people from cooking or heating their homes. Clothing, food, furniture, utility vouchers and other basic necessities are also available, rather than cash payments or crisis loans.

Applications to the fund can only be made via agencies working with these vulnerable groups. To be eligible you have to live in North Yorkshire, be aged over 16 and have a means-tested benefit or household income below the low income threshold of £16,105.

Now a study commissioned by the County Council into the impact and value of the fund has found it is having a significant impact on the wellbeing of applicants in North Yorkshire, many of whom suffered mental ill health caused by their circumstances, or would otherwise have to take out a high interest private loan.

Cllr David Chance, the Executive Member for NYLAF, said: “Supporting those in need is one of the most important things we can do as a council. Experiencing a financial crisis caused by events such as a boiler or fridge breaking down can tip many people into a spiral of debt which can be difficult to recover from.

“It is clear the Local Assistance Fund is providing vital assistance in preventing adults and children in the county from experiencing hardships such as homelessness or hunger and the impact these kinds of hardships have on mental health and wellbeing.”

The study, commissioned from NWA Social and Market Research, found those benefiting from the fund had fallen easily into debt or poverty, often through main wage earners losing their job for reasons including ill-health and redundancy. They had often been on low or no income for a prolonged period of time, or pushed into genuine poverty by an unexpected emergency.

The report stated: “It should be stressed that the applicants applying to the fund described their circumstances when they had applied as ‘dire’; many were cold and hungry, some with children, and the benefits of relatively small amounts to deal with this in the short term was of immense importance to them.

“The consequences of not having support related both to their physical and mental health and the desperate anxiety felt was having detrimental effects on their relationships.

“Many had feared homelessness and family break-up and the short-term relief provided by the fund reduced these anxieties.”

The evaluation also found;

  • The fund was reported to be the only viable, short-term and speedy response to a financial emergency other than turning to a high interest loan company.
  • Applicants were suffering from mental ill health caused by their circumstances and relatively small sums from the fund were having significant effects on their wellbeing. 
  • Stopping the fund would have a detrimental effect on other organisations supporting vulnerable people by increasing demand on services and other agencies such as food banks.

The Local Assistance Fund was first introduced in 2013 when crisis loans and community care grants were abolished and replaced with local welfare provision. Councils have been funding it since 2015, when funding from the Government ceased. 

Since 2013 the North Yorkshire fund has made awards totalling £3.5m to 40,000 applicants, helping thousands of vulnerable individuals and families in North Yorkshire to support their independence or overcome a short-term crisis.

North Yorkshire is one of the few local authorities in England to continue to invest in their scheme at a level close to the initial amounts allocated in 2013.

A report released earlier this year by The Children’s Society revealed the number of people nationally receiving crisis support from national or local government has plummeted 75 per cent since the Government devolved responsibility for the funding to councils in 2013 and then stopped providing ringfenced funding for the schemes in 2015.

It said parents were increasingly struggling to afford basics like feeding and clothing their children and heating the home and stated that schemes offering crucial help like shopping vouchers, electricity meter top-ups and white goods were ever more vital in preventing families ending up homeless or hungry.

For more information on applying to the NYLAF fund, go to; www.northyorks.gov.uk/nylaf

This story was published 16 May 2019