Third North Devon distrubution centre to open next week as welfare cuts begin to take effect.

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"People who used to qualify for full council tax relief now have to find 25 per cent. If they weren’t struggling before they probably will be now."

Duncan Withall, project manager Northern Devon Foodbank

FOOD banks in North Devon say they are struggling to cope with a surge in demand following the introduction of new welfare cuts at the beginning of the month.

Volunteers at Bideford Foodbank, which runs centres in Bideford and Barnstaple, gave out 1,400 meals in March but expect to give more than 2,000 by the end of April. Of the meals distributed, 37 per cent were for children.

To cope with demand, a third distribution centre is being opened in South Molton next Friday and the whole operation is being rebranded as Northern Devon Foodbank.

The new South Molton centre in New Road will be open on Fridays from 10.30am-1.30pm.

"We were expecting to see more people through the door but I didn’t expect it to hit us quite as hard so quickly."

Duncan Withall, project manager Northern Devon Foodbank

Project manager Duncan Withall said the charity is having to ‘considerably expand’ its operation and reorganise to cope with demand.

“We were expecting to see more people through the door but I didn’t expect it to hit us quite as hard so quickly,” he said.

“We may have to do a midweek stock-up this week. It will be the first one since we opened.

“Opening a South Molton branch is a big step forward in making our service more available to local people in crisis. It will help us reach out into some of the more isolated communities in the area.”

The service, which is funded by donations and relies on a team of 40 volunteers, has seen a steady increase in demand since food banks opened in Bideford in July last year, and in Barnstaple in January this year. In total, they have provided more than 9,000 meals to in excess of 390 adults and 230 children. Five tonnes of donations have been distributed.

According to the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, 1 in 5 people are living below the poverty line and a greater proportion of the population use food banks in the South West than in any other region of the country.

Mr Withall said that his customers are a mixture of unemployed, working-poor and people who have just had an unexpected bill.

He said: “We get different sorts of people through our doors, but all we see is people in need so we do what we can to help them.”

Food bank facts

Northern Devon Foodbank is funded by donations and relies on a team of 40 volunteers. Since opening last July, it has provided more than 9,000 meals to in excess of 390 adults and 230 children. Five tonnes of donations have been distributed.

Around 60 per cent of donations to the foodbank come from supermarket drives and Mr Withall said the generosity of local people had been remarkable.

“We give people a list of things we need as they go in to the shop but often they come out with more than we asked for.”

Government welfare cuts that came in to effect at the start of April are the most radical changes made to the system since it was introduced.

The new system, which scrapped council tax benefit in favour of a local authority-run council tax support scheme, means everyone of working age has to pay at least a quarter of their bill.

More than 4,500 people in North Devon and Torridge are now faced with paying towards their council tax for the first time.

“People who used to qualify for full council tax relief now have to find 25 per cent,” added Mr Withall.

“That works out at around £20 per month which is the food budget for some families. If they weren’t struggling before they probably will be now.”

Steve Hearse, joint head of financial services for North Devon and Torridge district councils, said he understood that many people would find the changes difficult and may even struggle to pay.

He said: “This is just one of a series of other welfare reform changes that the Government is implementing at the moment and these changes will have a cumulative impact. The Government itself has admitted that they aren’t able to determine what this cumulative impact may be, so it is hard to predict how much our local communities are going to be affected.

“The Government is imposing these changes on local councils and it is us who will be left to deal with the financial and social difficulties that they will no doubt cause.”

“While the two councils have a hardship fund for those suffering extreme hardship, this fund is reserved for very serious cases.”

He said people struggling to pay their council tax should contact the council to discuss their options.

n Donations to the food bank can be made at either the Bideford or Barnstaple distribution centres and anyone wishing to volunteer should contact Duncan on 07874 206438.

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