Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Social Services and Housing, Herefordshire Council (SF 27)


  1.  This paper has been written following consultation with several workers from social services in Hereford. Other than the general comment that loans should all be replaced by grants, it identifies three key themes. Paragraphs 2 to 5 discuss some of the difficulties social services staff have in planning provision for clients where Community Care Grants are identified as one of the resources to be accessed. Paragraph 6 discussed problems relating to the size of funds allocated to local offices for Community Care Grant provision. Paragraphs 7 to 9 discuss the part that Budgeting Loans could play to alleviate poverty for certain people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit who are forced to live, in effect, below Income Support levels as a result of their need to pay for medication.


  2.  When Community Care Grants were introduced they were done so with the idea that they would, in effect, create a partnership between the benefits system and local authority social workers—

    "The aim will be to develop a more effective and responsive system than exists at present, and one which can bring the resources provided by this part of the benefit system, by local authority personal social service departments, and by health authorities together in a more cost-effective way to meet needs" ("Programme for Change", Cmnd 9518, 1985, para 2.98.)

  This partnership would ensure that vulnerable and needy people living in the community received some additional financial support to allow those at risk of requiring residential care to remain in the community, or re-establish themselves in the community following a period in residential care. The grants also provide support for certain other groups of people with low benefit based incomes during periods of severe financial hardship who require specified items, or help with transport costs to make certain journeys e.g. hospital visits.

  3.  Whatever the hopes for the "partnership" between social workers and the Social Fund might have been, the reality is that many social workers experience difficulty accessing the financial help they need for their clients to remain in or to enter into the community. It is almost unheard of for social work staff to have any active communication with Social Fund staff in any way other than, perhaps, a supporting letter that is written by the social worker to accompany the claimant's application. Given this situation, it is frequently the case that where an eligible claimant is refused any or some of the requested assistance, the claimant is unable to meet the basic requirements that s/he needs to survive adequately without danger of a deterioration of the situation. Current practices do not allow Social Fund staff to make any realistic risk assessment of what the likely consequences would be of disallowing some, or all, of the claim. Active (re)development of the links between social services and the Social Fund would reduce the risks for some of the most vulnerable claimants that come with inadequate resources to meet their needs.

  4.  Obviously a move to a more collaborative process would require social workers to act with integrity and responsibility where they influence the award process so that there is no indiscriminate, blanket support for any given worker's clients. This could be ensured to a large degree by linking supportive statements with what has been recorded within the claimant's Community Care Assessment. Making links between Community Care Assessments and Social Fund payments would ensure that resources are targeted at those most in need of help. It should be noted that this does not imply that Community Care Assessments are shared with Social Fund staff, but rather that the social worker is able to confirm that a Community Care Grant would facilitate meeting the needs of the individual as identified in the Community Care Assessment.

  5.  If this "partnership" also allowed for "agreements in principle" on awards in advance in situations such as when a person is moving out of residential care, it would allow those planning resources and services to do so from an informed position. At the moment social work staff may be engaged in the planning process to move someone into, or maintain them in their own home in the community, not knowing until plans are too far advanced to either cancel or postpone whether or not there will be sufficient funding for the client to purchase essential household items or not. This is clearly an unsatisfactory situation.

  6.  Recent developments in the way disabled and vulnerable people are supported, including the forthcoming Supporting People provisions, mean that more and more people are seeing community provision as a viable option instead of traditional residential care. As a consequence more people are either moving out of residential care or are seeking to access greater levels of support to live in the community. This in turn means that there are larger numbers of people "competing" for Community Care Grant funding. This being the case we now find that there are people being offered no or reduced Community Care Grants who previously would have been successful in their application, as the formula to calculate the funding available to local offices does not allow this increased demand to be met as it occurs. In order for the Social Fund, and Community Care Grants in particular, to meet the needs they were set up to deal with, additional funding has to be made available to meet basic standard needs. If this does not happen yet another "perverse incentive" will be created where residential care becomes the favoured option for financial reasons rather than a community placement.


  7.  The system for budgeting loans appears to work reasonably well for those people who are able to access this facility. At present these loans are only available to those in receipt of Income Support or Income-Based Jobseeker's Allowance after a period of 26 weeks of being in receipt of one of the benefits. The rationale behind the loans are that those people on very low income will be able to access funding for foreseeable larger purchases that are not of an every day nature. The effect of the regulations on eligibility mean that those on or just above the Income Support level of income are not able to access this facility, even where essential spending on disability or illness related costs means that many people are, in effect, having to live on income at less than Income Support levels.

  8.  Several cases have been identified locally where a claimant is in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, and, other than housing related benefits, has been assessed as not being eligible for any other benefit. These people have been experiencing severe difficulties arising from their illness or disability, but, due to the way in which the rules are framed, do not meet the eligibility criteria for Disability Living Allowance. People experiencing mental health problems or those with certain forms or stages of cancer are particularly likely to fall into this group. In order to cure or reduce the impact of the illness such people are often reliant upon high levels of medication. Not being on Income Support or Income-Based Jobseeker's Allowance these people have to purchase their medication at the current rate. It is not unusual for such people to require two or more prescriptions a week. After buying the necessary medication these people are then forced to live on less than Income Support rates. It is often suggested that the answer is for them to purchase pre-payment certificates that allow significant savings on the cost of prescriptions for those needing frequent multiple prescriptions. The problem is that for those living hand to mouth on sub-Income Support levels there is not any money available to do this. Equally these people do not have any provision to meet the identified needs of people on Income Support based benefits for larger purchases as allowed for in Budgeting Loans regulations.

  9.  Recently published Department of Health (DoH) and Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) guidance and consultation documents ("Fairer Charging Policies for Home Care and other non-residential Social Services, Draft Guidance" January 2001, DoH; "Fairer Charging Policies for Home Care and other non-residential Social Services, A Consultation Paper", January 2001, DoH; "Charging and Means-Testing, Supplementary consultation document", January 2001, DETR) clearly state that local authorities shall not leave people with less than Income Support levels after charging for either or both of non-residential social services or Supporting People services. The way that prescription charges are managed breach these requirements. In the absence of a change in the charging system for prescriptions, a (partial) solution would be to extend the scope of Budgeting Loans to allow those on Incapacity Benefit to access these funds to allow for the purchase of pre-payment certificates for medication. Again this would allow funds to be targeted at those most in need of help, and reduce the situation which currently exists where some people are being forced to choose between food, fuel, or vital medication.

Mike Fry

Welfare Rights Officer

January 2001

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