A pioneering Midlands-based charity - which has launched a new subsidiary trading company to provide management, administration and corporate giving services - has been entrusted to distribute more than £6 million over the next 12 months.
The Severn Trent Trust Fund's new trading subsidiary, Sutton Coldfield-based Auriga Services, is "exporting" its expertise after clinching a major contract to administer funds on behalf of United Utilities, which owns and operates the water network in the North-west of England, a region which has a population of about seven million people.
Severn Trent Trust Fund (STTF) was established in 1997 and since then has provided grants of £16 million and has helped more than 50,000 disadvantaged families across the region who struggle with financial problems on a day-to-day basis.
Auriga Services, as just part of its range of services, will be looking to replicate the success of Severn Trent Trust Fund in the Midlands region by administering other corporate giving or similar trust funds elsewhere in the UK.
"After extensive benchmarking and comparisons by United Utilities and then independently by their trustees, being awarded this contract is a solid endorsement of our successful track record over the last eight years - and confirmation that our experience of grant administration is second to none," said Stuart Braley, former STTF chief executive and now chief executive of Auriga Services.
Announcing the contract with United Utilities, Mr Braley said that United Utilities intend to donate about £15 million over the next five years to its independent trust fund - which had been set up under a six-strong board of trustees to give a fresh start to customers in severe hardship and unable to pay their bills.
In terms of its investment in its customers, this makes it the biggest and most generous of its type in the United Kingdom.
Mr Braley added: "At a time when public attention is drawn to price increases, water affordability and the growing problem of customers in debt and hardship, it appears to be falling to the companies
themselves to offer help and to find a solution."
Mike Shields, former chief executive of the North West Development Agency, who is chairman of the new independent charity, said: "The trust is designed to help people who have genuine money worries, often due to factors beyond their control, such as illness or losing a job. We will be aiming to give many people a chance to get in control of their finances by helping ease the pressure of mounting debts."
Mr Shields said it was not a question of "rewarding" people who had run up debts.
"It is more about giving customers a one-off chance to start again and be able to manage their money better in the future."
In the Midlands, the Severn Trent Trust Fund, which is supported by an annual grant which this year amounts to more than £3 million, provides, about £450 to families who seek help.
But, it also encourages and supports sound financial management advice to ensure that people do not fall straight back into the debt trap.
The fund was set up by Severn Trent Water as an independent charity with the original aim of being a "safety net" for families in severe hardship and at risk of being cut off. Now, it has a widerranging brief to help families get back on their feet, providing specialist financial advice, as well as cash support and working in conjunction with organisationssuch as Citizens Advice, Age Concern, Barnardo'sand Terrence Higgins Trust.
With the award of the new United Utilities contract, Auriga anticipates handling up to 15,000 requests for help.
MrBraley said: "This is a large number of people and we deal with each as an individual and with sensitivity.
"With the proven expertise we have built up over the last eight years, we are now in an excellent position to help other companies who in turn, wish to help their own vulnerable customers.
"With debt increasing, fuel and water prices set to increase over the next few years, I fear that more and more people will find themselves in serious hardship.
"We know that help offered in this way is not just a quick fix but about supporting a long-term solution to people's financial difficulties.
"Debt is a real problem, particularly amongst lone parents, who represent 40 per cent of the applications for help that we receive."