HUNDREDS of vulnerable people across south Worcestershire are expected to benefit from £445,000 of ‘crisis funding’.

Worcester City Council has agreed to launch a new cash kitty aimed at protecting people in desperate need of help.

The money, which is being sent from central government, will replace two little-known Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) welfare schemes. Until now, people in genuine need of emergency help were able to apply for ‘crisis loans’ or ‘community grants’ from the DWP.

It was only given out in genuine emergencies, such as help with food vouchers, furniture or to bury a loved one.

But from April 1, both schemes are being scrapped, to be replaced by a new “welfare assistance scheme” managed by town halls. The city council will operate the scheme for south Worcestershire, and says it hopes to deliver a better one than the DWP system.

Under the rules, the authority will be able to apply its own discretion on who gets the cash, and under what circumstances. Councillor Jabba Riaz, the cabinet member for safer and stronger communities, said: “It will provide things like loans and help towards immediate short-term needs, including disaster scenarios.”

Councillor Paul Denham, deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “This looks like a good opportunity to take money which has been used less efficiently by the DWP than it otherwise might have been, and make better use of it.

“If done carefully, this money could go so much further than what the DWP managed – to my mind it can only be better.”

A report on the move reveals how the average DWP spend on grants in south Worcestershire was £463 per applicant in 2011/12, and £56 on crisis loans.

Some 38 per cent of the funding went on beds or bedding, 14 per cent on fridges and 13 per cent for kitchen and dining utensils.

The money helped 2,350 people in Worcester, 1,230 residents in Wychavon and 920 households in Malvern, with the total spend of £500,300.

The city council plans to make food vouchers a key element of the scheme, as well as vouchers for topping up meters for gas and electricity.

The report says “vulnerable” older people, families under “exceptional pressure”, those fleeing domestic violence, rough sleepers and young offenders leaving care will all be targeted.

The city’s ruling Conservative cabinet agreed to accept responsibility for running it.