Memorandum submitted by the Plymouth Citizens
Advice Bureaux Welfare Rights Support Unit (SF 10)
As a second tier agency (providing advice and
training on Social Security benefits), we do not have direct contact
with clients using the Social Fund. However, agencies using our
service have told us that:
The Social Fund is underfunded.
The new Budgeting Loan scheme has
led to an increase in loan sharks.
Children are remaining in Local Authority
care longer than necessary.
People are unable to take up accommodation,
or are losing accommodation because of inability to access loans/grants
Often only represented clients get
Lack of availability of Social Fund
loans/grants for people on Incapacity Benefit without an Income
Support top up.
1. The budget for the Social Fund for Plymouth
has increased only by uprating for the loans, and by little more
than £50,000 on the grants in the last 12-13 years at least.
For most of the last 12 months applications for grants have only
been considered if they can show they meet the criteria of "most
urgent and pressing high priority" (see annex). This has
made grants extremely difficult to access and has led to an increase
of the problems mentioned at points 3, 4 and 5.
We recommend that the budgets are increased
to a more realistic level, particularly the budget for Community
Care Grants which are aimed at the most vulnerable sector of society.
2. Since the introduction of the new budgeting
loan system we have seen an increase in clients using loan sharks,
notably in the most deprived areas of the city. This is a direct
result of the doubling of outstanding debt and low maximum debt
figures (currently £210.32) stopping clients accessing further
budgeting loans. Under the old system they could owe up to £1,000
and when they had repaid some of the debt they were usually able
to get a further loan if needed. Under the new system this is
no longer possible until most of the original debt is repaid.
Whilst this would seem to provide the client with an opportunity
not to get into more debt than they can afford, in practice many
people are so desperate that they will borrow money from wherever
It is also routine that repayment terms for
Budgeting loans are offered at 25 per cent of the personal allowance
(for someone over 25 this is currently £13.05). This makes
it more likely that clients will incur further debt as this money
is deducted from their benefit before they receive it.
We recommend that the maximum debt for budgeting
loans never falls below £300 and that clients are given a
choice of repayment terms across the range of 10 per cent, 15
per cent and 25 per cent, as was formerly the case.
3. Social Workers have told us that children
are remaining in care longer than they need to because the parent(s)
are unable to furnish their homes to an acceptable standard due
to the length of time it takes to get a Social Fund payment for
furnishingusually through the grant sytem. It is routine
for applications to have to go to the Social Fund Inspector before
they are paid. Recent examples that have been brought to our attention
"Married couple both with mental health
problems forced to move due to birth of their baby. Used what
money they had to move. Given Local Authority accommodation but
had no cooker, washing machine or fridge, as well as no carpets
and little furniture. Applied for a Community Care Grant (CCG)
with help of health visitor but were turned down. Also applied
for Budgeting loan (BL) but received one fifth of what was applied
for. Asked for a review of CCGreceived a cheque for cooker
only a week later. This couple still haven't got care of their
baby as Social Worker requested that the house must have basic
equipment to enable best care of the baby".
Case reported before Christmas
"Child in care 3 weeks longer than necessary
due to client not being able to get a cooker."
These cases are not unusual. Children are routinely
kept in local authority care for 36 weeks longer than necessary
whilst cases go the Social Fund Inspector for review. Usually
an award will be made at this stage.
When the Social Fund was introduced this type
of situation was one the Fund was meant to prevent. In Plymouth
there seems to be little liaison between the local officers and
the health workers involved, even where the worker has put contact
numbers for more information and also stated problems that the
client may have such as the inability to read or write.
Recommend: That cases routinely succeeding
at review should be circulated amongst local Social Fund Officers
so that these type of cases can be awarded at first application.
There should be regular liaison meetings
between Social Fund, Social Workers and other health workers to
That where a child is in care and the only
thing that is stopping that child being returned to its parents
is lack of furniture that these cases should automatically be
assumed to be in the urgent most high priority category.
4. Shelter and Path (a resettlement service)
have both told us that people are unable to take up/ or retain
accommodation because either they are unable to get a grant or
loan, or the level of award is inadequate. Shelter commented that
with support many of the applicants would probably succeed but
they as an organisation, do not have the time to help. Path have
told us that under the resettlement category they usually get
a payment but that it rarely exceeds £200 which is inadequate
to furnish property. This leads to a danger that the effort to
resettle a homeless person will fail due to inadequate furnishing
of the property. They comment that the Government's homeless policy,
the policies of the Local Authority and the Benefits Agency don't
seem to tie up.
Recommend that more cross agency policy work
is done. That Local Authorities look at putting some basic elements
into their housing i.e. cookers. That Social Fund Officers seek
further information more often, particularly where an application
is not supported by an advice worker. That a resettlement grant
is made at an appropriate level automatically when certain criteria
are fulfilled, and this is provided outside the Social Fund scheme
and is not reliant on benefit entitlement.
5. Many organisations have told us that
unrepresented clients often fail in their application for a loan
or grant. This disempowers vulnerable people, who then will need
to seek further help from a statutory or voluntary agency, thus
unnecessarily increasing the workload of those concerned.
6. Under the present system people receiving
Incapacity Benefit without a top up of Income Support do not have
access to the discretionary Social Fund. This presents a lot of
problems, particularly for clients with mental health illnesses.
This group have frequent hospital admissions which often result
in them either losing their accommodation or needing accommodation
more suited to their needs. The lack of access to the Social Fund
often means people are released into badly equipped accommodation,
often without a bed or cooker, which leads to re-admission to
We recommend therefore, that Incapacity Benefit
becomes a qualifying benefit for the purposes of the Social fund.
Note: Before the introduction of Incapacity Benefit in 1995, Invalidity
benefit was paid at a relatively high level. The same is not true
of Incapacity Benefit which is paid at a level not much higher
than Income Support.
Agencies Contributing to this Response
Path Resettlement Service
Plymouth Welfare Rights Unit (Cabx)
Ringmore Way Family Centre (part
of Plymouth City Council Social Services department)
Shelter (Plymouth branch)
Letter from the Acting Social Fund Manager,
SOCIAL FUND BUDGETSOUTH DEVON DISTRICT
I wrote to you earlier this month to inform
you of an increase in our Social Fund Loans budget for 2001/01
The allocation remains the same, however, due
to an unexpected demand for Budgeting Loans, I have had to raise
the level of priority.
The levels of priority that can be sustained
from the Social Fund budget allocation without exceeding it from
22 December 2000 are:
a single person on IS/JSA (IB) for 6 months has
access to a maximum debt of £210.32
most urgent and pressing high priority
A copy of the Area Social Fund Officers' Guidance
Mrs PA Etherington
28 December 2000
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