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Are you struggling to have enough money to live on?

The rise in the cost of living means that we’re all having to dig a little deeper to pay for household essentials such as food and energy. Many people in Devon are being forced to make difficult decisions, especially those on the lowest incomes.

If you don’t have enough money to live on, it’s important to make sure you know what support is available, so we’ve put together this special edition of our Connect Me newsletter to help.

What’s the ‘Household Support Fund’

The Government has made funding available to local councils so they can offer direct support to those most in need in their area. It’s called the Household Support Fund.

There are conditions on how the money can be allocated. It must be used to help people who are struggling to pay for food, energy, water bills and other related essentials, and specifically those households that may not be eligible for other support that is already available from the Government

With winter approaching, we’re working with our Team Devon partners (District and City councils) and other community organisations to provide our most vulnerable residents with rapid short-term financial support through a number of different schemes to help them over the coming months.

Citizens Advice Devon Energy Relief Scheme

We’ve given Citizen’s Advice Devon some money for an Energy Relief Scheme to help people using pre-payment meters and who are struggling to meet their energy needs.

Pre-payment meters are often used by people on lower incomes as a way to help them budget, but they can result in people paying more for their energy requirements.

If you are struggling with bills or worried about debt, get advice from Citizens Advice onlineover the phone, or by contacting your local Citizens Advice office.

Free Retrofit Energy Saving Improvements

We’re working with Energy Saving Devon to help vulnerable households, in most need of support with the cost of living, to make quick, minor improvements to their homes to make them warmer and more energy efficient.

If your household income is less than £32,000 per year and your property has an Energy Performance Certificate rating of D, E, F or G then you may be eligible for free ‘retrofit’ energy efficiency upgrades worth thousands of pounds.

Please contact your local Community Energy Group who can advise you further.

Home Upgrade Grant 2 (HUG2) 

We’ve secured £13.2 million funding to deliver the ‘Home Upgrade Grant’ scheme, which offers low-income households that are not on the mains gas network the chance to improve their homes with free energy efficient, low carbon heating. 

It’s open to households whose homes are not heated by gas (for example, dwellings that use oil, or liquefied petroleum gas, coal, solid fuels or electricity for heating purposes), have an Energy Performance Certificate of D, E, F or G and who are on a low income of £31,000 or less before tax.

You can check your eligibility and apply through the Energy Saving Devon website.

Food, Fuel and More grants

We’re working with Devon Community Foundation to provide grants to voluntary sector organisations supporting communities that don’t always get the help they need, and are therefore likely to be impacted more severely by the cost-of-living crisis. 

The ‘Food, Fuel and More’ scheme offers large grants of up to £25,000 to organisations that support homeless people or people in temporary or insecure housing. Groups supporting households with disabled residents, or those suffering ill-health which has a direct impact on household income and an ability to meet food and energy bills, are also encouraged to apply. Applications are also welcomed from organisations that support Asian, black, traveller, Gypsy, Roma and ethnic minority communities who are not accessing support through other channels. They will also be operating a small grants scheme of up to £2,000 for smaller community initiatives.

The scheme will launch on Wednesday 1 November 2023, so visit their website after then to find out more, including how to apply.

Team Devon hardship schemes

Our Team Devon partners at District and City councils have been given funding to enable them to provide ‘one off’ financial help to households who are vulnerable and struggling financially to secure food, water, energy and other essentials. They can also use the money to provide support in exceptional circumstances, such as rent arrears prior to being in receipt of appropriate housing benefits.

They will look to identify, contact and help those who may not be eligible for the other support the Government has recently made available, but who are nevertheless in need. This is especially the case for low-income households that are struggling with meeting the cost of their energy needs.

Visit the cost of living and support pages on your district council’s website to find out more about support in your local area:

Free School Meals

If you’re struggling to pay food bills, we encourage you to check your eligibility and apply for free school meals for your child.

All children in reception, year 1 and year 2 at state schools in England automatically get free school meals. From year 3 onwards, just children whose parents are receiving any of a range of benefits are entitled to free school meals during term time. However, parents are encouraged to apply for free school meals when they enrol their child in school, as this can help their child’s school to attract additional ‘pupil premium‘ funding to support learning.

You can apply for free school meals for your child on our website, and you’ll get an instant decision. Or you can call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019.

If you have applied unsuccessfully before and your financial circumstances have since changed, you can apply again.

Holidays supermarket vouchers

The financial challenges faced by some families can be intensified during school holidays because of increased costs such as food, especially with the current cost of living, and reduced incomes due to childcare

We want to make sure that no child in Devon goes hungry, so we are using some of the Government’s ‘household support fund’ to help families who receive benefits-related free school meals during term time, to purchase food over the holidays.

Supermarket vouchers worth £15 per child per week of the holidays are automatically sent to eligible families to spend on replacing the meals they would have had at school during the day.

More detailed information about our free school meals holiday voucher scheme is available on our website.

Free school holiday activities

Children aged five to 16-years-old who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals are invited to take up an action-packed school holidays, as part of our Holiday Activities and Food programme. It’s to provide free physical activities and healthy, nutritional, hot meals during the school holidays.

Activities including a range of sports and coaching opportunities, indoor and outdoor play activities; outings to local parks and beaches; magic and circus skills; film making; arts and crafts; music; cooking; theatre workshops; yoga and mindfulness; and a lot more! 

For more information please visit our Holiday Activities and Food programme website.

Growing Communities Fund

As the cold nights draw in, many local groups and organisations are looking at how best to support their community this winter.

It’s been over a year since we launched our Growing Communities Fund. Since then we’ve awarded more than £700,000 to local projects which are helping communities in numerous ways.

Grants have been awarded to 475 local groups, and of these 216 are helping to address food and fuel poverty; 281 are helping older people; 399 are addressing health and wellbeing; 313 are supporting people with mental health issues; and 322 are helping families, parents and lone parents.

We set up the fund to support proactive, effective, measurable and sustainable actions to help people and communities build self-reliance, improve connections, reducing loneliness and isolation and improving local people’s mental health and wellbeing. It has now developed into one of our main responses to the continued high cost of living. 

Groups which are encouraged to apply include those that bring communities together for meaningful activities and social interaction; offer local people a warm safe haven during winter; or alleviate food poverty by producing or distributing surplus food and essentials or who offer communities the means to cook nutritious meals on a budget.

For more information and to apply for a grant, please visit our website.

Money worries and mental health

Worrying about money can have a big impact on your mental health and wellbeing, and in turn, having poor mental health can make managing your finances harder. 

So it’s important to do things that help you feel more in control and get support if you need it.

The NHS Every Mind Matters website has lots of support and information that can help if you’re facing money worries, including helping you manage your debt, which can help reduce the immediate stress.

Save on childcare costs

The Government offer a range of schemes to help support families with childcare costs.

The Tax-Free Childcare scheme means you can get up to £500 every three months (up to £2,000 a year) for each of your children to help with the cost of childcare. Put simply, for every £8 paid into your childcare account, the Government tops it up by an additional £2. It can be used to pay towards the cost of nursery, childminders, pre-schools, breakfast clubs after school clubs, holiday schemes, and wraparound care. Visit the Government’s website for more details.

All families with three and four-year-old children can get 15 hours of free childcare a week. (Families on certain benefits can get this from when their child is two-years-old.) Eligible working families with three and four-year-olds can receive 30 hours of free childcare a week. Visit the Childcare Choices website for more information

Get a healthy start

If you’re more than ten weeks pregnant or have a child under four-years-old, you may be entitled to get help to buy healthy food, such as fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried, and tinned pulses and cows milk.

If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money added to it every  four weeks. You can also use your card for infant formula milk based on cow’s milk and to collect vitamins for you and vitamin drops for babies and young children.

To find out more, visit the NHS website.

Community fridges

Devon now has 25 community fridges, and they help ensure that surplus food finds a home quickly – they are open to all and make good food available for free.

Although each fridge is run slightly differently, It is estimated that collectively they redistribute over 150 tonnes of surplus food, worth, almost £500,000 each year. 

The fridges are generally self-service and work on an honesty basis where it is expected that visitors only take a handful of items at most so that as many people as possible find something of interest when they visit.

Winter warmth and community connections in your local library

Libraries across Devon are continuing to throw their doors open to help communities find warmth and overcome loneliness this winter.

Staff and volunteers are pulling out all the stops to make sure people feel welcomed and supported with a range of activities and offers such as community events, free hot drinks and rails full of warm coats for anyone who needs one.

Library teams will be devising their own programmes of services for individual communities, considering customer need for their particular location. You can join any of the Devon libraries for free by visiting Libraries Unlimited’s Devon website.

Cheaper broadband and phone packages

Some broadband and phone providers offer cheaper packages to help customers on low incomes. They’re called ‘social tariffs’, although some providers call them ‘essential’ or ‘basic’ broadband.

They’re delivered in the same way as normal packages, just at a lower price. 

Most providers require you to be in receipt of certain benefits to qualify. You can check if your current provider offers a social tariff on the Ofcom website, and if they do you can contact them and ask to switch.

If your current provider doesn’t offer a social tariff, you can switch to one that does, and your provider might let you leave your current contract without paying a penalty fee.