HEREFORDSHIRE Council is keeping just under £300k of specified welfare assistance funding unlabelled in its adult social care budget for the coming year.

The council says it wants the cash to help welfare initiatives rather than the crisis loans it was intended for under the local welfare provision scheme run by councils across the country.

This week, the council was criticised for spending less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year - equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.

Today (Friday) Helen Coombes, director for Adult Wellbeing, confirmed that the remaining sum was in the 2014-15 adult social care budget unlabelled.

The intention, she said, was to have the money on hand for specific welfare support initiatives rather than individual loans.

Support initiatives currently active in the county, from food banks to Citizen’s Advice say they are inundated with assistance requests on a weekly – even daily – basis.

Recently, the Hereford Times reported that nearly 900 people had called on the Hereford food bank alone between January and March this year – a figure reflected in 470 referrals up from 176 over the same period last year.

The local welfare provision scheme is run by local authorities.  Previously support was available through the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) community care grant and crisis loans system.   

The DWP system worked on the basis of cash loans which had to be paid back.

In a statement, Herefordshire Council confirmed its approach as preventing people in crisis from adding to spiralling debts and helping them to other support available.

Any awards made will normally be in goods, services or vouchers. 

The statement said: “Every single application for assistance is considered carefully to make sure that support is put in place to meet urgent needs.  As a result of this successful approach, the council has spent a relatively small amount of the cash it has available for local welfare provision.” 

The council’s annual allocation for local welfare provision is just over £306,000. 

To date, £7,300 of this has been spent – about 2%.

There are two types of assistance, an exceptional circumstances award (ECA) and a community care award (CCA).

ECA covers the cost of essential items, providing temporary help to prevent risk to health, well-being or safety, or to ease financial worry.

CCA is for help setting up a home after being in care, after being homeless, or  having to move due to specific circumstances including violence or fear of violence.

There is also provision to help those facing circumstances where it is difficult to stay home.