HARD-UP parents can get cash grants to help them cover food and energy bills over the Easter school holidays.

Just weeks after thousands of children returned to classrooms as lockdown rules were eased, schools will be breaking up again for a two week break.

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Mums and dads worried about the increasing costs that come with having the children at home can apply for extra money to go towards paying the bills.

At the end of last year, the Government launched Covid Winter Grant Scheme to support families whose finances have been hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis through the school holidays.

It set aside £170million for struggling households following a campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford, and was due to end on March 31.

But earlier this month, it added another £59.1million to the pot andextended the programme until April 16 to help parents through the Easter break.

What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit

IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:

  • Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
  • Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
  • Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
  • Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax by applying for a Council Tax Reduction. Alternatively, you might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments to help cover your rent.
  • Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.

The cash can be used by low-income families who rely on free school meals in term time to cover increased grocery bills during the spring break.

It can also be used to help with the cost of energy and water bills.

The grants replace the supermarket vouchers scheme that were issued by schools to cover food bills over the Easter and Summer holidays last year.

How much cash can I get?

The payments are handed out by local authorities across England and are worth up to £150 in some areas.

Councils are given different amounts depending on how many people live in the authority and how many of them are struggling financially.

For example, of the latest £59.1million funding boost, Derbyshire has been allocated £758,227 while the City of London has been given £7,011.

How to cut the cost of your debt

IF you’re in large amounts of debt it can be really worrying. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how you can take action.

Check your bank balance on a regular basis – knowing your spending patterns is the first step to managing your money

Work out your budget – by writing down your income and taking away your essential bills such as food and transport
If you have money left over, plan in advance what else you’ll spend or save. If you don’t, look at ways to cut your costs

Pay off more than the minimum – If you’ve got credit card debts aim to pay off more than the minimum amount on your credit card each month to bring down your bill quicker

Pay your most expensive credit card sooner – If you have more than one credit card and can’t pay them off in full each month, prioritise the most expensive card (the one with the highest interest rate)

Prioritise your debts – If you’ve got several debts and you can’t afford to pay them all it’s important to prioritise them

Your rent, mortgage, council tax and energy bills should be paid first because the consequences can be more serious if you don't pay

Get advice – If you’re struggling to pay your debts month after month it’s important you get advice as soon as possible, before they build up even further

Groups like Citizens Advice and National Debtline can help you prioritise and negotiate with your creditors to offer you more affordable repayment plans

The area that has been given the largest amount of cash funding is Birmingham, worth £1,803,918.

Each council decides how much cash it will issue and who is eligible for support.

For example, in Sutton, families can get up to £150 worth of food vouchers, while Hertfordshire is issuing vouchers worth £75.

How to apply

As the cash is issued by local councils, you'll need to speak to them directly to find out what support is available.

You can find yours by typing your postcode into the Gov.uk checker tool.

The money can only be used for specific reasons though, which you will need to explain when making an application.

Some local authorities are providing vouchers to families they already know are on low incomes and no application is needed.

In other areas the money is funding existing schemes that are supporting people locally, such as food banks.

Many local authorities are doing a combination of these things.

What can I use the money for?

Each council can decide where to spend the cash and who is eligible for support.

But broadly the Government has said at least 80% of the cash must go towards families with children.

The remaining 20% of money should go to other households in poverty, or who are at risk of poverty, because of the impact of the pandemic.

While at least four fifths of the cash must be spent on household bills, a portion of the funding can be used to cover the cost of related essentials.

How to get debt help for free

THERE are lots of groups who can help you with your problem debts.

  • Citizens Advice – 0808 800 9060
  • StepChange – 0800 138 1111
  • National Debtline – 0808 808 4000
  • Debt Advice Foundation – 0800 043 4050

You can also find information about Debt Management Plans (DMP) and Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVA) on the Money Advice Service website and on the Government's Gov.uk site.

Speak to one of these organisations – don't be tempted to use a claims management firm that will claim it can write-off lots of your debts in return for a large up-front fee.

This includes warm clothes and blankets, toiletries like soap and sanitary towels, boiler repairs and services and buying equipment like fridges or ovens.

So far, local authorities have reported that 95% of funding has been given to families with children and the same percentage used to support them with bills.

Earlier this month, the Government agreed to extend a £20 a week Universal Credit uplift for another six months.

Those still on the old tax credits system will receive one-off payments worth £500 to ensure they get the same amount of support.

Universal Credit claimants will be given 24 months to repay advance loans from April, up from 12 months currently.



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