Hundreds of families could be forced to live off handouts after Richmond Council refused to use funds to help people suffering food poverty.

Richmond’s Liberal Democrats called on the council to use its Government hardship budget to help people suffering due to benefit delays and changes, which it said was the biggest cause of referrals to foodbanks.

At the call in meeting on Thursday, the council rejected the idea and decided to instead the use the local assistance scheme money to help people struggling to pay fuel bills, through grants of up to £100 a household.

The opposition party said the move was an inadequate response to helping people in need and claimed it would still leave a surplus of about £100,000 unspent.

Leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Knight said: “It is utterly shameful that this Tory council if forcing 600 local families to live off charity food handouts by refusing to help them with its unspent hardship funding.

“It’s shameful that the council is sitting on money that has been given by the Government to help people.”

Coun Knight said organisations, including the Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity, already exist to help people in fuel poverty.

He put forward a motion to review the scheme to include people suffering hardship because of benefit delays and changes at the next full council meeting.

Deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, said the Liberal Democrat call-in delayed money getting to people in need and was “absolutely outrageous”.

He said: “It is my very strong belief that the money should be directed to those in fuel poverty.

“I think that all of the members, particularly the liberals, were really astounded to learn the department for energy’s figures that say Richmond has above average fuel poverty for England.

“Richmond has what is called 75 excess winter deaths.

“This is clear statistical evidence that the real problem is fuel poverty in this borough. That is why the money is being put into it.”

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