In recent years, the Household Support Fund (HSF) has been the final line of defence for those struggling with the cost of living. However, without any mention in the Autumn Statement of an extension, the Fund’s future is uncertain.
The HSF is funded by the central government and administered by local authorities. It supports those who can’t afford essentials like food, energy bills and water through proactive and application-based support. Local authorities can tailor how funds are used and who can apply for funding.
As it stands, the Household Support Fund will end in April 2024. This sits alongside the ending of the Cost of Living Payments totalling £900 that have been made across 2023–24 to low income households. The loss of both sources of support at once risks creating a financial cliff-edge for thousands of households.
Households need support to stay afloat in the cost of living storm
“The cost-of-living crisis is not going to magically end on the 31st March 2024. The people we help will continue to be in a financial crisis long past this date. Without the HSF, more will resort to extremes to manage their household budget and go without” — a Local Citizens Advice adviser.
Almost all our expert advisers (96%) think people will still need the HSF’s financial support after the current funding ends in April 2024. In fact, budgets for low-income households will get tighter in the coming months. 8 million people will have £900 less next year without the Cost of Living payments.
Citizens Advice has broken unwelcome records throughout the cost-of-living crisis and that pattern shows no sign of ending. By the end of November, we’d already helped more people with crisis support in 2023 than any other year on record. Over the last 11 months, we’ve helped over 71,800 people in relation to localised social welfare, which includes the HSF, a 62% increase compared to the same period last year.
People who need the HSF are struggling with the everyday emergency of meeting essential costs. The vast majority of people we advised on the HSF this year needed support with additional issues. Charitable support, food banks, and fuel were the most common.
The Household Support Fund needs expanding, not ending.
With nearly 4 months left of this funding cycle, money is already running out. 23% of advisers surveyed said the HSF had used up its funds and closed applications in at least one of their local authorities. A further 20% were concerned funds would be exhausted before 31st March 2024.
Advisers describe local authorities closing applications for the rest of the month once an application limit is reached, or not advertising when applications will reopen, in a bid to try to ration the funding they have. Rose’s* story shows what this looks like in practice.
Rose came to Citizens Advice for support after trying to access her local HSF by phone at 9am, the day applications opened. She managed to get through to the website at 10am, but was told all the funds had already been allocated. All our advisers could do was refer her to a local food bank.
(*Rose is not the real name of the client. It has been changed to ensure anonymity)
We need the Government to commit to continuing the HSF
Our frontline advisers described the HSF as a ‘lifeline’ which has kept households afloat during the cost-of-living crisis. With that crisis still with us, support in the form of Cost of Living Payments ending and demand for our services continuing to break records, the HSF is needed now as much as it ever was. And what’s more, the experience of our advisers shows the Fund needs to be not just extended but expanded, to bring an end to the rationing that comes from local authorities trying to stretch too little too far.
There’s still time for the Government to act to extend the Fund before it ends in March, and low-income households across the country are relying on it to do so.
This blog is shared with kind permission of Julia Ruddick Trentman – Policy Researcher at Citizens Advice – and was first published on January 3rd 2024.