Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from
Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council (SF 19)
I am writing on behalf of Redcar and Cleveland
Council's Welfare Rights Unit, to comment upon the application
of the Social Fund, and its operation.
This Unit assists residents of the borough with
applications to the Fund and with challenging decisions both at
local level and the Social Fund Inspectorate. We also provide
support to Social Work teams, whose majority of users are in receipt
of benefits. We therefore have knowledge of how the Fund operates
in practice and how it impacts upon the most vulnerable members
of the community.
We believe that the Fund, in many circumstances,
is unfair, discriminatory and causes undue hardship.
We wish you to consider the following points:
1. Community Care Grants (CCGs)Direction
1.1 CCGs are only available to a minority
of benefit recipients, and discriminate against, in particular,
single claimants. We have numerous examples of single applicants
who, although under "exceptional pressure" can only
access the Fund if they are coming out of "care" or
at risk of going into "care".
1.2 Two of the most recent examples are:
1.2.1 A single man in his fifties suffering
from depression and living in a rural village devastated by floods
last year. The ground floor of his home was ruined by flood water
and sewerage but unfortunately he was uninsured. Families whose
homes were similarly affected accessed the Fund through Direction
4(a)(iii) to ease "exceptional pressures", but he could
only qualify for a CCG if his stressed condition were sufficient
to risk admission to "care". A much more severe test,
which he found difficult to argue.
1.2.2 A single claimant who cared for his
wife until her death, claimed for a funeral payment from the regulated
Fund. There was a shortfall between the grant and the actual cost
of the funeral, which he was unable to pay, because he was already
repaying the shortfall from his mother's funeral 6 months earlier.
He was deeply distressed but could not satisfy 4(a)(ii). Had he
been a family, his "exceptional pressure" could have
been considered. As a result, repaying both debts from the funeral
account is bringing his income well below Income Support levels
and causing acute distress.
1.3 Direction 4 is limited and severe in
its eligibility. It denies access to single claimants who are
as prone to "exceptional pressure" as any other group.
2. Repayment of loans
2.1 Repaying loans can cause hardship and
anxiety by bringing basic levels of income to well below Income
2.2 Two recent examples to illustrate this
2.2.1 An 18 year old pregnant girl, estranged
from her parents and living in a rented flat. She receives Housing
Benefit up to the "single room" rate of £35 per
week and therefore has to pay the shortfall to her landlord. She
also repays a Budgeting Loan for basic furniture at the rate of
£5.35 per week leaving her £36 per week for food, clothing
and rent. She had no money to buy food or to heat her home, after
paying her landlord.
2.2.2 A young man under 25 claiming Income
Support on the grounds of ill health. He received a Budgeting
Loan to assist with furnishing a new flat but the repayments were
causing extreme hardship. He had no money for food after paying
3. Crisis Loans
3.1 The "last resort" of many
vulnerable people who are unable to access funds from any source,
find this fund fails them if they cannot show the ability to repay
any loans. So although they can establish their eligibility for
the loan, if they cannot repay, they will be refused, leaving
many people in a severe situation.
4. Budgeting Loans
4.1 The relaxation of rules to allow claims
for general needs does away with the pedantic need to specify
each individual item, but the advantage is offset by determining
a set minimum figure which in many cases will not meet the need.
Senior Welfare Rights Officer
15 January 2001