People in Norfolk could slide into poverty or lose their homes because a "lifeline" fund which has helped tens of thousands looks likely to end, worried charity bosses have warned.

More than £30m from the government's Household Support Fund has been used in Norfolk since 2021, with Norfolk County Council providing more than 620,000 awards of support for struggling families.

Set up in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and continued during the cost of living crisis, it has been used to give cash grants or vouchers to help people with energy, food and other essentials.

It also pays for food vouchers during the holidays for children eligible for free school meals and contributes towards softening the impact of unexpected costs, such as replacing broken boilers, for low-income households.

But the fund is due to end on March 31, with government ministers yet to confirm whether it will be extended into 2024/25, leading to a warning more families will slide into poverty or lose their homes.

Eastern Daily Press: Chancellor Jeremy HuntChancellor Jeremy Hunt

The chiefs of 10 Norfolk charities have written to chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Mel Stride, the secretary of state for work and pensions and Norfolk's MPs urging them to continue the scheme.

They wrote: "This funding has been a lifeline for people facing hardship, hunger, crisis and unexpected costs.

"As organisations who provide advice on issues as wide-ranging as debt, benefits, housing, immigration and family law, as well as working in partnership with those providing material support including food, we have worked with Norfolk County Council and the district councils to use this money to support those who need it most.

"This has included distributing one-off vouchers for people who cannot afford to eat or top up their energy meters, and using the funding to provide advice on issues including benefits, debt and housing.

"We are worried that if this scheme comes to an end, it will leave a gap in support for constituents in crisis.

"More families will fall into arrears on council tax, rent and utility bills, at risk of losing their homes or struggling with mental and physical health.

"With local authority budgets under considerable pressure and the cost of essential items significantly higher than it was when the scheme was launched, we believe an extension of this support is vital."

Eastern Daily Press: Dan Mobbs, chief executive of MAPDan Mobbs, chief executive of MAP (Image: ©archant2016)

Among those who have signed the letter are Ann Donkin, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk, Dan Skipper, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk, David Powles, chief executive of Norfolk Community Law Service, Dan Mobbs, chief executive of MAP, Ben Reed, chief executive of Equal Lives, Ben Scarlett, director of Norfolk Community Advice Network and Lesley Burdett, from Shelter Norfolk.

Eastern Daily Press: Lesley Burdett, from Shelter NorfolkLesley Burdett, from Shelter Norfolk (Image: Shelter)

Andrew Jamieson, Norfolk County Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said the authority has also written to ministers.

With the council this month due to agree its budget, including £52m of cuts and savings, he said the lack of clarity on the future of the fund was making that more difficult.

He said: "We don't want to see people fall off a cliff edge. We are talking to officers and hoping we will be able to provide some sort of service.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk County Council's Martineau Lane headquartersNorfolk County Council's Martineau Lane headquarters (Image: Mike Page)

"At the very least, our own Norfolk Assistance Scheme will continue, which does provide short-term help for some of the most vulnerable and desperate people.

"That is not on our savings list because I am very keen that the council can continue that service, which is even more pertinent given the uncertainty over the Household Support Fund."

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew Jamieson, deputy leader of Norfolk County CouncilAndrew Jamieson, deputy leader of Norfolk County Council (Image: Norfolk County Council)

Mr Jamieson said Norfolk's MPs had been lobbying hard on behalf of County Hall.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, has also called for the scheme to continue.

Officials in the Department for Work and Pensions said all existing cost-of-living measures were kept "under review".

A spokeswoman said: "We have invested over £2bn in the Household Support Fund over the last two years – with almost £800m already paid to families with children to help with the cost of living.

"The current fund is available up until March 2024 as part of wider cost-of-living support worth on average £3,700 per household, including raising benefits by 6.7pc from April and increasing the Local Housing Allowance."