The Children's Society has warned that changes to the Social Fund which used to provide emergency funding for families are putting some of Britain's poorest families in danger.
It says that loans and grants have been cut and there is a postcode lottery for support after responsibility was passed to local authorities.
The Social Fund provided discretionary Crisis Loans for families with acute and immediate needs and Community Care Grants to people who had moved out of care.
From April this year the budget was transferred to local authorities. So, while over 2 million people collected crisis loans in 2012, it's not clear how many are getting them now.
The Children's Society says the funding has been cut by 46 per cent since 2010 - that's a figure calculated by taking account of price rises over the last 3 years.
Councils have adopted different approaches, some providing only vouchers and pre-paid store cards and others requiring claimants to prove that they can't borrow from friends or on a credit card.
Most no longer offer the interest free loans the Social Fund was known for.
The Department for Work and Pensions has defended the changes, saying that since last year the money allocated for the loans has been maintained in cash terms at £178m. And councils have been given extra money for administration.
It adds that help is now being targeted at applicants affected by flooding, fire or gas explosions.
But the Children's Society, backed by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, warns that poor families will be driven towards loan sharks and payday lenders.