West Sussex: Specialist advice and support with council tax, school meals and free wifi to help you survive the cost of living crisis

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The rising cost of living is causing real worry for many as it becomes increasingly difficult for households to make ends meet. I take residents’ concerns about inflation and price rises very seriously. I’ll do all I can to make sure people are supported and know where to turn for help when feeling under financial pressure.

These are challenging times, and we all need help at some point in our lives. For those severely struggling, there are grants and specialist advice that can make a big difference. There are also cost savings options that we might all benefit from.

Here are some of the ways that the County Council provides support or signposts to support is available.

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Paul Marshall, leader of West Sussex County Council, has provided tips on how to cope with the cost of living crisisPaul Marshall, leader of West Sussex County Council, has provided tips on how to cope with the cost of living crisis
Paul Marshall, leader of West Sussex County Council, has provided tips on how to cope with the cost of living crisis

Specialist advice

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It’s always best to seek out advice as at early as stage as possible. Do not worry about asking for help, caring professionals speak in confidence to people all the time and will only want to do what’s best for those who contact their service.

West Sussex County Council provides funding for a range of specialist support in the county helping residents to gain expert advice.

These include:

Citizen Advice money debt and money advice service

Age UK’s free money advice including maximising your benefits

Care funding advice from Carewise

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We also run the County Council community hub which has been supporting some of our most vulnerable residents through the pandemic and continues to focus on those most in need.

Sadly, there is also a small number of those who act criminally to defraud people in the most callous of ways. Be sure to check the credentials of people you deal with. Genuine organisations will be happy to provide proof and reassurance. If you have concerns about anyone offering “too good to be true” deals to help you out or if something doesn’t feel right, then don’t agree to anything until someone you trust has looked at the details with you. The Citizen’s Advice scam checker is also a useful tool.

Council tax support

Funding of up to £3 million was allocated in this year’s annual budget to provide support for households struggling to pay council tax. The funds are for additional discretionary relief, administered by District and Borough councils, for working age residents claiming Council Tax reduction relief who can benefit from having their Council Tax bill reduced by up to £150.

Free school meals during school holidays

In recognition of increasing financial strain due to rising food and energy costs, Free School Meal (FSM) eligible families will be entitled to an extra supermarket voucher per eligible child this Spring. Each child who receives free school meals (means tested) has been given a £50 voucher ahead of the Easter break period. These have been distributed to eligible families through schools in the same way as supermarket food vouchers have been provided to families in each of the school holidays throughout the pandemic, funded through the Household Support Grant.

Free Wi-Fi and internet

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All our West Sussex County Council libraries have free Wi-Fi, as well as computers with internet access, email services and Microsoft Office applications. You can use USB memory sticks on all our computers. Library members may use the computers for free, for a maximum of two hours per day.

It’s free for residents to be a library member and easy to sign up in your local library or register online.

Libraries are for much more than books

Talking of libraries, my love of reading will always bring me back to favourite books that I can borrow for free over and over again from my local library.

Our modern library service offers a free eLibrary option for members who prefer screen reading to turning paper pages.

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The County libraries also have a loan service for toys and DVDS. Small fees are attached to some loan services, but these are considerably lower than commercial rates and can help save money over a year.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on our children, with limited opportunities to socialise. Libraries offer a place to read, learn and play without breaking the bank. There are regular activities such as Toddler Times, Storytimes and Saturday Singalongs that bring children together for much needed fun and socialising with others the same age. This can often be a lifeline for parents too.

Details of the services available and library locations are on our website

I’m a proud supporter of our libraries and the role they play in our communities. It’s always worth checking out what they have to offer.

District and Boroughs

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The county’s District and Borough councils offer a range of support. You can find details of your local district and borough council on our website. We work in close partnership with our District and Borough colleagues and see first-hand the local community support provided across our County.

County Council investment

There are more than 850,000 residents in West Sussex using council services all year round. As a council we have been working hard to provide essential services across the county and invest in ways that will make a real difference. We are committed to making the best use of our resources for the good of all our residents, communities and businesses. Details of our services are available on the council website.

Whatever challenges you are facing, I urge you to seek support if you could do with a helping hand because a problem aired is a problem shared. There is a great deal of kindness and many skills in our communities. Across the County, local groups are working alongside professional organisations, including our council, to make a huge positive difference. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, we all benefit when we work together and look out for each other as we head towards a better future.