Vulnerable Wealden people ‘left in lurch’

Bob Standley and Graham Wells
Bob Standley and Graham Wells

Vulnerable people will be denied help to get back on their feet if a plan to remove specially targeted funding goes ahead, it is feared.

Now the Conservative Group on Wealden District Council is asking the Government to reverse its decision to remove funding from the Local Welfare Assistance Fund.

Housing portfolio holder Cllr Graham Wells and council leader Cllr Bob Standley proposed the motion at last Wednesday’s meeting. They say the scheme has helped bridge a crucial gap for the most vulnerable residents who need urgent help.

Cllr Wells said: “The Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS) provides vouchers - not cash - for residents needing emergency help to pay for items such as second hand furniture and utilities. It also provides help for rent deposits for local residents who, for whatever reason, have no finance.”

Examples of people helped in the past include a mother whose abusive partner forced her to withdraw all her cash from an ATM and give it to him, leaving her and her children penniless. There was also a man whose children were left with him but he had no beds for them. The vouchers went towards buying clothes and bedding.

The council has issued a list of the value of vouchers issued and why they were given, including 14 in benefits, seven for people fleeing violence and eight for people leaving prison. It helps people obtain food bank vouchers including nappies and baby milk, essential furniture, emergency fuel and rent in advance deposits via a council. Typically people are referred via the housing options team which processes the application for DESSS.

Cllr Standley said: “The withdrawal of this funding set for 2015 is a mistaken policy and the motion asks for representations to be made to Whitehall to reverse the decision.”

Cllr Wells said the Department for Work and Pensions used to administer two funds known as crisis loans and community care grants. In 2012 the Government transferred money for both of these to county councils. East Sussex County Council was not given any detailed information about the number of people the funding had helped so it has to ‘guestimate’ how many it could assist. The council put the DESSS scheme in place and funding started to flow in 2013-14.

Cllr Wells said: “We have about 160-plus vulnerable households in Wealden. We believed a voucher type of scheme is the type of support the Government prefers and we are anxious about the fate of people this decision will leave in the lurch.”