New £7.7m fund defended amid criticism over meal vouchers

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Norfolk County Council has launched the Norfolk Cost Of Living Support Scheme - Credit: PA

Council leaders have defended their new £7.7m fund to help people in Norfolk struggling due to the cost of living crisis.

Norfolk County Council recently launched its Cost of Living Support Scheme, which it says will help people from the very young to pensioners, amid spiralling costs hitting households.

Part of the scheme will see a £3.6m pot through which families eligible for means-tested free school meals can claim cost of living vouchers worth £15 per month, with an enhanced £30 payment in August.

But, at a meeting of the council this week, opposition councillors questioned how easy it would be for people to access the scheme.

Chrissie Rumsby, Labour candidate for Mile Cross. Pic: Labour Party.

Labour county councillor Chrissie Rumsby - Credit: Labour Party

Chrissie Rumsby, Labour councillor for Mile Cross, said: "Given the vouchers scheme worked well and was understood by families, why is it introducing a new, more complicated, more bureaucratic scheme that will cost exactly the same, but may make it more difficult for families with children entitled to free school meals to benefit from?"

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Andrew Proctor, leader of the county council, said the aim of the scheme was "to get to as many people as we possibly can", as per government guidance around how £6.7m of Household Support Fund awarded should be spent.

He said the "bulk" of the money was going to children and families, while other money would help older people and go to the Norfolk Assistance Fund.

Sharon Blundell

Liberal Democrat county councillor Sharon Blundell - Credit: Costessey Town Council

Sharon Blundell, Liberal Democrat councillor for Costessey, also raised concerns.

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She said families had told her, while they appreciated the scheme, they would rather get payments over the holidays, as opposed to monthly vouchers.

Mr Proctor said: "The vouchers are on a monthly basis and part of the scheme is really they don't have to be used then. They can be saved up and used at peak times.

"What we've tried to do is to make the scheme as flexible as possible and one families can use in the best way they possibly can."

The council came in for criticism when it did not offer school meal vouchers over the Easter holidays. The new voucher scheme is backdated to April.

Details on how to get help are at Norfolk County Council's website.

Last month, the EDP launched its Your Money Matters campaign, to highlight the impact of increased financial pressures in the county.