ESSENTIAL support for some of the North-East’s most vulnerable people is in jeopardy as the Government moves to axe crisis grants worth £180m from April 2015.
In a bid to transfer more control to local authorities, the Government plans to withdraw a centralised grant system that supports people facing severe hardship.
Councils across the region have warned that the "unfair" decision could have a significant impact on vulnerable people.
Following the abolishment of the nationally administered Social Fund as part of the recent Welfare Reform Act, the grant was used to set up welfare assistance schemes across the country.
A crisis support element helps to cover vital short-term expenses such as food or clothes while the community care element provides people in crisis with basic living essentials such as beds.
A grant of about £900,000 was used to help more than 4,000 people in Middlesbrough in 2012/13.
The town’s deputy mayor, David Budd, said: “A wide range of support provided within Middlesbrough is being placed in jeopardy.
“This is manifestly unfair and is yet another example of those in the greatest need being hit the hardest.”
Antony Sandys, housing benefit manager at Darlington Borough Council – which received about £400,000 a year - said: “This seems to be what central government do, transfer responsibility to local authorities with a grant and then pull the rug out after a couple of years and say it’s now up to you.
“This could have a massive impact on people who come to us because they don’t have anything and can’t afford to heat or eat.
“We will keep a safety net for the most vulnerable people but we may have to limit who we can help and scale things back.”
Councillor David Harrington from Stockton Council pledged to lobby the Government if the grant is abolished.
He said: “We will be disappointed and will be lobbying Government to ensure residents have access to the support they may require should they find themselves in a crisis situation.”
Don McClure, corporate director for resources for Durham County Council, said: “The loss of funding will clearly leave a gap of essential services to vulnerable people.”
A Government spokesman said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted councils can now choose how to best to support local welfare needs within their areas – what is right for inner London will not be for the North-East.
“Government continues to provide support to local authorities’ through general funds as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing ring-fencing and ending top-down Whitehall control.”
All councils approached said they remained committed to providing support for those in crisis.