Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



Memorandum submitted by Mulhare Advice Service, Nottinghamshire Probation Service (SF 09)

  We work as benefits advisers in partnership with Nottinghamshire Probation Service. Our client group is mainly offenders and ex-offenders. Many of them are subject to community supervision and a proportion are also discharged prisoners. Our views on the Social Fund are outlined below.

  1.   Decision making—the discretionary decision making process does not ensure an egalitarian delivery of the social loans and grants. It appears to be something of a lottery where people with similar needs receive positive and negative decisions.

  2.   Budgeting Loans—the fact that these loans are interest free is to be welcomed. However, repayment of the loan can cause considerable hardship for people on means-tested benefits. The rate of repayment set by the Benefit Agency does seem high on occasions and it is often difficult to have loan repayments reduced. There is no review procedure against a refusal to reduce loan repayments.

  3.   Crisis Loans—we have come across instances where Crisis Loans have been refused in cases of extreme hardship.

  4.   Community Care Grants—The amount allocated for items under the grant scheme appears to get lower each year. We have dealt with people who satisfy Direction 4 and fall within the priority groups who are refused help on the groups of insufficient priority. Some people have been offered a council tenancy and refused help with essential household items. They are left with an empty tenancy without even a bed to sleep on. The review process can take up to five weeks or over and we have had a good degree of success in having negative decisions overturned. However, during this period people are left in desperate circumstances.

  5.   Discharged Prisoners and Community Care Grants—there is a particular problem faced by discharged prisoners who are resettling in the community. Some ex-prisoners are eligible for contribution based Jobseeker's Allowance or Incapacity Benefit on release. If there is no entitlement to Income Support or income based Jobseeker's Allowance, they have no entitlement to a Community Care Grant even though their circumstances are the same as a discharged prisoner on the relevant means-tested benefits. This seems very unjust to them and us. Another problem facing discharged prisoners are the "3 waiting days" for Jobseeker's Allowance. Some ex-prisoners apply for a Community Care Grant during the 3 waiting days and are then refused because they are not on the relevant benefit. This situation becomes a bureaucratic nightmare with the claimant unsure whether to seek a review or reapply and show a change of circumstances.

  In conclusion, we feel that the Social Fund budget is insufficient to meet the needs of the many claimants who require help and the decision making process seems inconsistent as a consequence. Claimants who are most vulnerable may be those least able to represent themselves and therefore more likely to be deemed of insufficient priority for an award.

Una Mulrenan and Hilary Hare Duke

9 January 2001

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