Council draws up plans to end holiday voucher scheme for Hertfordshire families

Parents warned scheme could end this month
The holiday voucher scheme could end this month ( February)The holiday voucher scheme could end this month ( February)
The holiday voucher scheme could end this month ( February)

A scheme that offers struggling Hertfordshire families supermarket vouchers through the school holidays, could be coming to an end.

Families with children eligible for benefits-related free school meals have been able to claim the vouchers since 2020.

But now they are being warned that the last vouchers could be issued this month (February).

That’s because the county council scheme currently relies on funding through the government’s Household Support Grant.

But the county council has been given no guarantee the funding will continue past March (2024).

And without a clear commitment, the county council is now drawing up plans to end the holiday food voucher scheme.

“At the current time there are no plans for the DWP fund to be extended beyond the end of March,” said Cllr Fiona Thomson, executive member for children, young people and families.

“So we have plans in place to let all eligible families know that February half-term’s voucher will be the final one.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to fund an additional voucher for the Easter Holidays, but this is dependent on the funding available.

“We will, of course, keep families informed should anything change.”

Acknowledging the financial pressures families are facing, Cllr Thomson says she has already written to the minister to ask for the Household Support Fund to be extended beyond the end of March.

And she said: “We will continue to lobby the government to ensure they understand the challenges we are facing.”

Cllr Nigel Bell, leader of the Labour group on the county council , says this is “very concerning”.

And he says they will be pushing the county council to seek clarification from the government on their long-term plans.

“It is not right that the government did not make the commitment in the autumn statement leaving families and local families not knowing what is happening,” said Cllr Bell.

Meanwhile Cllr Mark Watkin, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on children’s services, has also expressed concern.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is devastating for the families that this vital support will be removed. And we have to challenge the government on the harm this will cause.

“The county council is facing drastic financial challenges, because of the failure of the government to fund local authorities properly.

“I blame central government for walking away from this and causing the subsequent harm to our most needy children.”

In response a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions highlighted the investment that has bee made in the Household Support Fund.

“We have invested over £2 billion in the Household Support Fund over the last two years – with almost £800 million already paid to families with children to help with the cost of living,” said the DWP spokesperson.

“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 6.7 per cent from April and increasing the Local Housing Allowance.”

The county council’s school holiday activity programme, HAPpy, – which includes a meal for participating children – will continue during the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays this year.

Anyone who needs help can contact HertsHelp on 0300 123 4044, email [email protected] or visit the website.”