Labour group say “bar set far too high”.
Nearly 40 per cent of requests for crisis loans to provide basic needs were rejected by Walsall council last year leaving the budget under spent by over £600,000; local authority officials have revealed.
The limit for the local welfare assistance scheme, designed to help the poorest members of the community, was set at £1,098,510 for 2013-14 but latest figures from the authority show only £400,013 has been paid out. At the same time the council issued over 2,500 vouchers for food banks to people who didn’t have enough money to feed themselves.
In one case, a couple who received only £112 a week in benefits were told their boiler was too old to repair after it broke down in November 2013. The couple made an urgent request to Walsall council as one of them suffered from asthma and they feared for her health if she had to spend months in a cold, damp house. But council contractors who inspected the boiler said it was likely to break down again and refused to repair it, instead recommending it should be replaced. The couple were then told by council officers they would have to pay over £1 ,200 towards the new boiler. In the end, the couple had to borrow money £200 from relatives to pay for a replacement part.
The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, said: “It was unbelievable. We asked for £200 because we simply didn’t have the money ourselves and instead we were presented with a bill of nearly £1,300. If we didn’t have £200, how were we supposed to find £1,300? The boiler was old but the British Gas engineer who finally fixed it said it was safe and repairable. If it hadn’t been for relatives who loaned us the cash the council would have left us to go through the winter with no heating or hot water, despite the possible health effects. “
Cllr Diana Coughlan, who has been campaigning on welfare reform as part of the council’s opposition Labour Group, said the figurers show how the council is failing those in the most desperate need. “While our council’s leaders boast of how much money they are spending on high profile projects like regeneration of Walsall town centre, in the background and conveniently forgotten are thousands of people without the most basic needs despite the money being available.
“Ironically, when the council was setting up the crisis loan scheme a leading Lib Dem councillor said you couldn’t trust poor people with cash. The truth is we can’t trust the Tories and Lib Dems to help the poor. Over 2,500 food bank vouchers issued by the council show that are too many people in Walsall are living on the margins of destitution but instead of helping, Walsall council is rejecting over one in three requests for help and hoarding over 60 per cent of its budget
“Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about giving money to people to buy flat screen televisions or the latest electronic gizmo, we are talking about buying children new shoes or a school uniform; we are taking about replacing cookers to prepare food or, as in the case we’ve highlighted, heating and hot water during the winter months. The criteria for crisis loans here in Walsall were set by the Tory and Lib Dem councillors who run the council. They have set the bar poor people have to clear far too high, forcing council officers to reluctantly turn away those in the most need despite the cash being available.”