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With a robust application process and strong partner network, we’re helping Oxfordshire Council to distribute emergency support effectively.

Developing a new application process 

For a number of years, Oxfordshire Council has worked with local partners to support people facing financial difficulty. Using the government’s Household Support Fund and money from its own budget, it was providing grants and in-kind support in the form of vouchers or household goods. 

In February 2023, the government announced that the next round of funding would be conditional on adopting an application-based process. Following a competitive tender to find the right partner, Oxfordshire chose NEC. 

Getting up to speed quickly 

The contract’s requirements included expert support around set up as well as delivery. As we already deliver a similar service for the Welsh Government and other local authorities, we were able to advise Oxfordshire on the right approach and then to mobilise quickly.  

For the first few weeks, we worked together to agree eligibility criteria, set up phones lines and email support, and to open a bank account with Family Fund, our established partner that delivers white goods, furniture and support payments. These household items and payments are sourced from major suppliers such as AO and PayPoint to ensure availability.  

Just three months after the contract was signed, the new service went live on 4th July 2023.  

Paul Wilding is Oxfordshire Council’s Cost of Living Programme Manager:  

“We want to reach those residents who are most in need, but we also have to keep the fund sustainable. We started slowly so that we could understand demand, and the benefit of working with NEC is that we can adjust our criteria or amounts we award as we move forward.”

As a result, Oxfordshire have had some fantastic results. In one case, we saw a single mother with a 7-year-old child access the scheme after a recent family breakdown resulted in several health issues. Although they were receiving Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment, due to the recent changes in the household and the increases to the cost of living, they had no money and nowhere else to turn. 

Their electric cooker was broken and not repairable, and their bed had been taken by their ex-partner. They had no money to pay for their pre-payment meter, or their food shop either. 

The citizen’s application was reviewed, they were contacted, their circumstances fully verified, and their application was awarded, all in the space of 36 hours. A fantastic turnaround for the team at Oxfordshire. 

Using data to maximise coverage

With data on demographics, the type of award and application volumes now available centrally, the council has a clearer picture of where need is greatest. As a result, they increased the value of food vouchers and then started to promote the scheme more actively with selected partners. This includes Age UK, a long-standing partner that Paul visited to promote the scheme: 

We noticed that applications from older people were coming in at a lower rate than we expected, so I met with Age UK to explain the new process and that applications could be made easily by phone.”

Extending local partnerships

Recently, we held a meeting attended by more than 30 partner organisations to understand their experience so far and answer any questions. As these partners often make applications on their clients’ behalf, this type of engagement is vital to the long-term success of the programme. 

The council is now providing equitable access to food vouchers, energy vouchers and individual items of furniture or white goods to people across the county. This includes to individuals who may have previously gone under the radar, such as those in full-time employment. 

Through the monthly reporting schedule and frequent meetings, we are working with Oxfordshire to focus on continual improvement to the programme’s operation.  

“With the support of NEC’s experienced team, we’re able to reach out more widely to residents facing hardship. We also have the flexibility to adjust the support we provide to meet the changing needs of our communities.” 

Paul Wilding, Cost of Living Programme Manager, Oxfordshire County Council