'Exceptional demand' as thousands in Norfolk seek coronavirus hardship fund help

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The Norfolk Assistance Fund has seen 'exceptional demand' amid the coronavirus pandemic. - Credit: Archant

"Exceptional demand" for help from a pot of cash for people struggling to cope in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has left council staff battling to meet demand.

In the space of just over a month, more than 5,000 people have asked for help from the Norfolk Assistance Scheme, run by Norfolk County Council, as the impact of the pandemic and the third lockdown hits families hard.

The fund was set up in 2013 to help people unable to meet their immediate needs or who needed practical support to set up home.

But over the past 12 months, it has increasingly been used to help those struggling because of coronavirus, such as people furloughed, on reduced hours or made redundant.

The council says the current scheme has a "significant focus" on supporting people with food and heating costs.

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But it also provides support with items such as cookers and fridges or beds and bedding.

The council has put in extra support to help people through the winter and said there had been "exceptional demand".

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A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said: "The Norfolk Assistance Scheme has given essential support to thousands of Norfolk residents and has grown to meet the increased demand throughout the pandemic.

"The scheme is one of the many ways Norfolk has stepped up to help those who need it the most, whether through local community hubs or support services for those who are having to self-isolate.”

The scheme has an annual budget of £1.2m, but an extra £500,000 was added in April due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further cash is available thanks to government grants.

The council said £500,000 was awarded in December, with the "vast majority" of applications successful.

Between April and the end of December, £1.25m has been awarded.

The council says it will "make the resources available" to continue to support applications for the rest of the financial year.

A spokesman said: "The council accepts that there is exceptional demand at this point in time and aims to continue to support people through this challenging time using the necessary resources to do so."

Details on the fund at www.norfolk.gov.uk/nas

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