A new £7.7m scheme has been launched to help Norfolk people struggling with cost of living increases.

County Hall leaders say Norfolk County Council's Cost of Living Support Scheme will help people from the very young to pensioners, amid spiralling costs hitting households.

As part of it, a £3.6m pot will mean families eligible for means-tested free school meals can claim cost of living vouchers worth £15 per month.

There will be an enhanced £30 payment in August to coincide with the school holidays - and families can choose what to spend the money on.

After controversy at the council's decision to not offer free school meal vouchers over the Easter holidays, vouchers will be backdated to April, continuing until October.

The council is adding an extra £1m - half from its budget and half from public health cash - to the £6.7m the county received through the government's Household Support Fund.

£2.2m will be made available for cash and voucher awards for people aged 65 and over.

Those will be administered via voluntary organisations and other partners - including a collaboration with Anglian Water to help people with bills.

£700,000 of that funding will be distributed to district, borough and city councils to support vulnerable communities.

£1m will be added to the council's existing Norfolk Assistance Scheme, which families, not eligible for free school meals, but who are facing hardship, can approach for support.

Another £840,000 pot will be shared with district, borough and city councils to support other people in need.

The council was criticised when it did not run school meal vouchers over Easter, sparking protests and a walk-out by opposition councillors.

Andrew Proctor, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said then that specific Westminster funding for the scheme had ended and the government required the Household Support cash to be spent more widely than just on school children.

He said the new scheme had the potential to help thousands of people at a time when many are feeling the pinch.

He said: "What we have tried to do is reach as many people as we possibly can.

"That includes children and families who are eligible for free school meals, but also other families in need and older people.

"We have done what we said we would do. It's taken a little while to get to the stage we have, but we want to get to as many people as we can.

"This scheme is more flexible and we've tried to make sure it is a support scheme which can help people for as long as we possibly can."

A further £225,000 is being given to the Norfolk Community Foundation's (NCF) Nourishing Norfolk scheme, which has a network of food hubs offering cut price food to families.

Claire Cullens, NCF chief executive, said: "The additional funding support to our Nourishing Norfolk programme will enable us to accelerate the development of affordable food hubs across Norfolk to ensure that no one in Norfolk goes hungry.”

But Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, questioned the extra bureaucracy being created - and said families should not have had to go without vouchers over Easter.

He said: "Families have been made to endure a torrid Easter school holiday when the money was there to prevent it. Now they are having a new system imposed on them.

"The council has delivered a mire of bureaucracy to make backdated payments when the vouchers scheme worked so well. They couldn't have made a bigger mess of it."

He said, while new funding was welcome, he feared voluntary organisations would have to shoulder administrative costs.

And Liberal Democrat county councillor Sharon Blundell said the new scheme was "confused".

She said: "Norfolk has either completely used or exceeded its full allocation for free school meals over the last three school holidays, so to use only half of the government funding that has been made available for vouchers will mean some children in Norfolk will still go hungry.

"It also continues the hands off approach from the council to those who need help, as it will require more forms to be filled out that just creates further barriers."

The council says people who find themselves in hardship should call them on 0344 800 8020, so the council can offer support or direct them to others.

Last month, the EDP launched its Your Money Matters campaign, to highlight the impact of increased financial pressures in the county.