Crisis loans to some of the neediest people in Lancashire will be cut under new plans.
Lancashire County Council will later this year take on the responsibility of handing out crisis loans and community care grants - a role previously undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
A cash pot of £2.9m given to the authority by central government is almost half the amount spent two years ago. Crisis loans give payouts for things like furniture or transport costs for emergency situations, including older people in need, terminally ill people, or young people leaving care.
No more than two handouts will be given per person each year.
The authority will now look to local organisations, including food banks, to help plug the gap.
The latest available data, from 2010/11, shows that in Lancashire there were around 50,000 applications for crisis loans and grants, with £5.2m spent on helping people.
At a cabinet meeting last week, concerns were raised that a new 0845 number to be introduced as part of the scheme would be ‘restrictive’, with some telephone networks giving charges.
County Coun Ciaren Wells said: “I imagine some of the people attracting this fund will be those with a mobile phone, not a landline, and I wonder if this 0845 number could be restrictive.”
County Coun Jennifer Mein said: “The county council has a number of buildings, libraries in particular.
“Would it not be possible to install free phone lines in some of these buildings for people to use instead?”
The meeting was told that buildings such as libraries were ‘not geared up’ to provide such services.
The cabinet also heard that just 34 people took part in an online survey about the changes, an amount the council said wasn’t unusual when carrying out such consultations.
The service will be delivered by the county’s benefits service through One Connect Ltd, a partnership between the council and telecoms giant BT, from April.
Council bosses said the new system would focus on the reasons behind people needing support.
A report said: “Creating the service will provide a knowledge and skill base that will allow attention to be paid to the underlying causes of the individual’s problems rather than just addressing the symptoms.”