A COUNCILLOR has called for tighter restrictions on food banks after claims the system is being abused by families who are not in desperate need.

Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett said she knows of residents in her Hove ward who are regularly claiming from food banks while being comfortably off living on benefits.

The call comes as a new report by Brighton and Hove City Council shows that the number of food banks has grown exponentially since 2012 with more set to open in the upcoming months.

Food bank charities have moved to calm fears by stating that all food banks in the city only see residents that have been referred to them by professionals.

A report to be discussed at the council’s policy and resources committee next week states there are now 12 food banks in the city giving out food parcels to approximately 270 households per week.

In July last year there were six food banks giving out roughly 220 food parcels, while there were just two food banks in July 2012.

Food banks are due to open soon including the first Trussell Trust affiliated food bank in Whitehawk and a food bank aimed at communities in Hangleton and West Blatchington.

Coun Barnett said: “I know of people who are getting really good benefits that are going to charity food banks and coming out with big bags of food.

“These people are not in need of these handouts.

“I think these charities need to find where the genuine need is.

“There are a lot of people who don’t go along to food banks who are in much more need than these people I have seen use the service.”

A spokesman for the Trussell Trust, which has a food bank in Shoreham and is due to open one in Whitehawk, said: “Everybody who comes to the Trussell Trust is referred by a frontline professional such as a social worker, health visitor or doctor to ensure that the need is genuine.

“These workers are much more likely to come across people than we would be able to find working with them and they can make people in crisis aware of food banks.”

She added that any resident is entitled to three referrals for three days’ worth of food from their food banks before the trust will go back to whichever professional referred them to work on more long-term solutions.

Emma Daniel, Labour councillor for Hanover and Elm Grove, said benefit cuts had forced more people to turn to food banks.

She said the referral scheme is ‘inadequate’ and called for more food collection points for donations.

She added: “I regularly come across mothers who I can see are clearly not eating enough and look malnourished.

“Free school meals help their children, but it is painful to see that they are struggling to afford food for themselves.”