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Cash-strapped Highland families set to share in £3.4m welfare fund

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Highland Council is preparing to send out cash top-ups to 22,000 low-income households next month.

It is part of a range of welfare support payments designed to help the people who are most in need.

The Scottish Government has awarded Highland Council a £3.639 million share in its £80 million LACER Fund.

The LACER – Local Authority Covid Economic Recovery – Fund gives councils flexibility to spend the money as they see fit.

Highland Council looks set to spend the lion’s share on welfare support.

A report ahead of today's full council meeting suggests a £210,000 spend on help for business.

The remaining £3.429 million will be shared out to households badly hit by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

The council also says it will cut red tape and work with Citizens Advice to provide financial support to those most in need.

The plan appears to focus on getting the cash out, quickly.

It aims to help single parents, families with young children, carers, people with disabilities and older people in particular.

The fund will support people who are unemployed as well as those who work but rely on top-ups to make ends meet.

Instead of an application process, the council hopes to use existing welfare records to make payments by BACS.

The welfare team will contact people they believe are eligible to check their details. If all goes to plan, this could provide extra cash to 22,000 people by 31 August.

The funding is split into several pots. Families who currently receive school clothing grants could receive £125 per child.

Households who qualify for means-tested Council Tax reduction may get £145 under the Cost of Living Support Fund. More than 17,600 Highland Council customers will benefit from this financial support.

It is also likely that many families will receive both the £125 child payment and the £145 cost of living boost.

On top of that, the council is setting up a discretionary fund for families experiencing distress and trauma. It has allocated £115,000 to be shared out between families in difficulty, such as those who have young children but are in and out of work.

As part of its partnership with Citizens Advice, Highland Council plans to provide £25,000 financial support for an energy advice service that could benefit 1,000 Highland homes.

It is also investing in more staff for its welfare support team, to provide advice and help to more Highland residents.

All this will supplement the £400 that the UK Government has committed to providing to every household from October 2022.

What about businesses?

Highland Council has said its business support package focuses on moving from survival to recovery.

It plans to invest £210,000 to help businesses comply with environmental health and trading standards regulations.

While this is a relatively small sum, the council emphasises that it tops up the existing package of business support.

Highland Council has already distributed more than £200 million financial support to 8,000 businesses.

Currently, it offers £1,000 start-up grants through Business Gateway and up to £40,000 growth funds for established businesses.

In March this year it launched a new fund providing £500 to £2,000 to businesses which saw a 20 per cent reduction in trade during the Omicron wave.

The council will also set out an investment plan for the UK Government Shared Prosperity Fund at the meeting.

Leaders hope the investment package will not only support those most in need, but also boost consumer confidence and drive economic recovery.

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