Households given financial support through work across all councils

This story was published 6 February 2023

Tens of thousands of families and some of the most vulnerable people in North Yorkshire are being given support to cope with the cost of living crisis through the co-ordinated efforts of hundreds of council staff.

Warm and well talking to a lady in North Yorkshire

Work by officers across all the current eight authorities in North Yorkshire is paving the way for a new council that will be established in the spring to cover the whole of the county.

The new North Yorkshire Council launches on 1 April and will provide the opportunity to streamline the way in which services are delivered, including support for people who are struggling to cope with the highest rate of inflation for more than 40 years.

A series of schemes have been launched to provide help for households which have been hit the hardest by the rising cost of living.

Council deputy leader, Cllr Gareth Dadd, who is also the executive member for finance, said: “We have always made a priority of helping those most in need, but this has been accentuated by the financial challenges which are affecting everyone.

“We are very much aware of the pressures that even more people are now experiencing with the increasing costs of food, fuel and other essential items, and we are committed to ensuring that help is focussed on those who need it most.

“It has been extremely heartening to witness the professionalism and commitment of staff across all eight councils in North Yorkshire to make sure this support is targeted in the most effective way.”

Among the projects under way is a third phase of the Household Support Fund, which was launched in January, with us working alongside borough and district councils to help those most in need. The latest phase of the scheme provides a one-off payment in supermarket e-vouchers for up to £325 to help people pay for food and other essentials.

More than 23,000 people in North Yorkshire have now received a letter from the county council containing an individual code to download an e-voucher, with the option of a printed version for anyone who is less confident with technology. The e-vouchers need to be redeemed ahead of a deadline of 15 February.

The scheme was initially set up by the Department for Work and Pensions to help people meet the cost of energy bills, food and other essentials as the country recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first phase of the Household Support Fund was launched in North Yorkshire at the end of 2021, before a second stage was rolled out in the summer of last year. A total of 20,624 households benefited under the first phase, while 39,023 received support in the second stage.

Scarborough Borough Council’s benefits manager, Guy Shrimpton, and Ryedale District Council’s revenue and benefits manager, Marcus Lee, have been two key figures in helping administer the Household Support Fund in North Yorkshire.

Mr Shrimpton said: “It has been a new experience to be working in such close collaboration with each other and bringing our skills and expertise together to deliver a scheme of this scale. This has laid strong foundations for the future as we launch the new North Yorkshire Council in the spring.”  

However, one of the great challenges for providing the scheme has been the changes in criteria for those who qualify. While the majority of people who are eligible have now claimed, a reminder letter has been sent to anyone who has not redeemed their voucher to encourage them to make contact if they have any difficulties.

Many of those who qualify for the scheme are pensioners who may not be as comfortable with technology as younger generations, meaning staff and volunteers in the county’s libraries network have also been on hand to offer advice and to help print off the vouchers.

Mr Lee said: “There has been a real sense of common purpose amongst the team to make sure that we are making help available to those who need it most. It has been really nice to hear stories about how appreciative people are of the help and support they have received.”

We are also working with Community Support Organisations (CSOs), which have extensive knowledge on locally-run projects. The Community Support Organisations can direct people to local support, such as food banks or food share schemes, community venues offering warm spaces and support groups.

The launch of the new council is, however, coinciding with massive pressures on budgets for the public sector nationally. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of more than £30 million in the council’s revenue budget for the next financial year, all of which will have to be covered by the one-off use of reserves after some additional savings have also been introduced.

The new council’s proposed budget is due to see a rise of council tax of 4.99% in North Yorkshire to counter the financial challenges, equating to an increase of £83.64 for an average Band D property. However, a new council tax reduction policy will be adopted by the authority which means households in the greatest financial need will be given up to 100% reductions on bills. The move has brought together different approaches currently used by district and borough councils to provide a single policy for North Yorkshire.

Find out how to claim the Household Support Fund in North Yorkshire and see details of cost of living support.

Thousands of people benefit from work to counter cost of living

With inflation hitting the highest level for more than 40 years, households across North Yorkshire have been facing a huge challenge to meet the cost of living.

The rising price of food and essential items has come in quick succession to the Covid-19 pandemic, which placed the public sector under immense pressure to support the nation both financially and through health services.

Staff and volunteers at the Citizens Advice service have been instrumental in providing advice and are set to have given support to more than 20,000 people in North Yorkshire during the current financial year while working alongside the eight councils in the county.

Citizens Advice in North Yorkshire has itself undergone a merger over the past decade, with all eight bases in the county now operating under one organisation.

This has brought a range of benefits with outreach services being reinstated in Craven and Whitby, and the launch of a new law centre in December offering advice on housing, family law, employment and immigration. It is hoped that as many as 10,000 people in York and North Yorkshire will be given help during the first year of the law centre’s operation.

The chief executive of Citizens Advice in North Yorkshire, Carol Shreeve, said: “In all of the 28 years that I have been involved in support services, I have never known anything quite like the current cost of living crisis.

“We have seen the benefits of merging into one organisation, as it has made sure there is better use of money, more specialist services and more investment for projects such as the law centre.

“While it is hard work to make sure services are kept as local as possible with a big organisation, the efforts of everyone at Citizens Advice in North Yorkshire has shown this is possible.”

Money from the Government’s Household Support Fund has been used to finance schemes in the county, which can be accessed now by residents struggling to afford essential items. These include the North Yorkshire Local Assistance Fund, Warm and Well in North Yorkshire and food banks.

Warm and Well, a scheme which helps to ensure homes are properly heated to prevent poor health, has an additional £260,000 in the current phase of the Household Support Fund to support people who are struggling with their energy costs. Citizens Advice is contracted by us to deliver the project to residents.

The head of operations for Citizens Advice in North Yorkshire, Charlotte Wild, said: “We have worked very closely with all of the councils, and the help we have been able to provide has been really welcomed by thousands of people.

“With the launch of the new council, this will build on such good work already undertaken, and we are hopeful even more people will be able to benefit.”