Memorandum submitted by Stockton on Tees
Borough Council Social Services Department (SF 29)
Comments on how it works:
This response is the result of a questionnaire
distributed to local government Social Services staff. This provides
a snap shot of recent experience from the caring professions.
Those asked to complete or respond have direct experience of acting
on behalf of Social Fund applicants.
The overall experience is negative.
The process of application is fundamentally
flawed as it is both discriminatory and discretionary.
The process of considering applications
and the review process is too lengthy. The forms are too complex
for the targeted client group.
Refusal of both grants and loans
is more common than success. When awards are made these are never
for the full amount requested. Where an award is made only the
cheapest and poorest quality essential items are affordable.
The existing cash limited budget
is totally inadequate and has been for years.
Both the internal review and inspector
review are considered to be unfair and deny fundamental rights
as detailed in the Human Rights Act (HRA) and European Convention
on Human Rights (ECHR) to those who need the protection of these
rights greater than any other segment of our communities.
The administration of the Social
Fund budget does not correlate with local government administration
Comments on how it could be improved:
Replace discretion with rights.
Speed up, simplify and extend both
the application and decision making process.
Ensure translators and interpreters
are available where the application form is provided.
Extend entitlement to include the
recently disabled who become unemployed and the disabled who are
Extend the role of the Social Fund
to match savings made by applicants (£ for £) using
the post office national bank.
Change the administrative base of
the Social Fund to reflect local government administration.
1. The observations contained in this brief
report on the operation of the Social Fund (both the discretionary
and the non-discretionary) are based upon:
(a) the direct experience of local government
officers advising and representing individuals since the inception
of the fund, and
(b) the abandonment of the right to additional
requirements payments and single payments under non contributory
means tested regulations.
2. To ensure that the knowledge and experience
of Social Service professionals was identified and acknowledged
a simple questionnaire was distributed to many colleagues (over
40) in Stockton on Tees Borough Council Social Services department
identified from our records as having advised their customers
and clients. Although the resulting returns were limited this
is probably the combined result of the Social Security Select
Committee initiating the inquiry requests over the Xmas period
and a reflection of the pressures client based personal social
services are currently experiencing.
(a) The comments included in this brief report
are thus from those acting on behalf of those in poverty and these
comments have been a result of a questionnaire that has concentrated
on detailed qualitative response rather than quantity.
(b) Representations have been received from
occupational therapists, qualified social workers, senior social
work practitioners, social workers for the blind, social workers
for the deaf, welfare rights officers, ethnic minority workers
and specialist social workers.
3. Most of the applicants (this term is
specifically used as claimant can only be used in terms of an
individual exercising their statutory rights) advised are those
who have applied for budgeting or crisis loans and community care
grants. Much of Stockton on Tees Borough Council Welfare Rights
Services representation and advice is with people in impoverished
circumstances whose last option is to apply to the Social Fund
(discretionary schemes or means-tested awards).
(a) The overall experience of the Social
Fund discretionary scheme for both grants and loans is that of
negativity. Regardless of the client group the general feeling
is that persons with clear needs, even when meeting both the regulatory
criteria and guidance, are both discouraged from applying and
(b) A relatively simple example dealt with
on the 17/01/01 of a severely physically disabled man with a family
of four being refused a budgeting loan for a bed. He was never
advised about a community care grant and only by chance did he
find out. He asked the local DSS in Stockton on Tees about a CCG
and was advised there was very little chance of him being awarded
a CCG and was not offered a SF300 to claim.
(c) Examples from all areas of disability,
both mental and physical, are quoted in the responses received,
clearly showing the difficulties that those in greatest need experience
excessive difficulty in progressing in the application process.
Only one example is given , in our responses, where no problems
are experienced and this is from a service provider dealing with
clients who have severe learning difficulties.
(d) The overwhelming reasons given for refusal
of a grant has been that there has not been enough monies. Even
when a grant has been awarded only a part of the monies requested
have been awarded. The practice of only awarding monies for the
cheapest items available is not only demeaning for the applicant,
denying them any consumer choice, but also results in very poor
quality, shoddy goods or secondhand goods having to be purchased.
The goods purchased thus do not last long enough and the applicant
may be faced with a repeat application for a replacement item
before the regulations permit. The question again to be asked
is whether it is reasonable in our society for the poorest, the
most at risk and those with disabilities to live with the poorest
quality essential items.
4. The review process is considered by most
professionals to be almost mandatory if an award is wanted.
(a) The process for all parties is time consuming
with one example given of 3 weeks delay for "emergency grant
application". The time taken for a decision, where an application
form is provided, (this is not always forthcoming when the claimant
is in crisis or may meet the criteria for a community care grant)
is considered by a range of workers representing applicants to
be too long. This is compounded by the delays resulting from the
local internal review and Inspector Review.
(b) As it is an internal process welfare
rights officers with extensive experience of representation at
independent tribunals consider Social Fund reviews to be fundamentally
flawed. The reviews are considered unfair and welfare rights officers
due to negligible success from attendance at oral internal review
meeting may only represent in written representations in certain
individual extenuating circumstances.
(c) Where English is not the first language
the responses indicate that there has never been a situation where
an interpreter has been available. This applies to Chinese, Punjabi,
Urdu, Gujerati, Bengali and Hindi speaking communities.
(d) Where people are deaf or hearing impaired
there are fundamental problems with communication. The instances
used as examples show that deaf people cannot access or respond
to the process when required.
(e) The subsequent Inspector Review process
is commented upon by welfare rights workers as too long a process
where rarely the result is in favour of the claimant and once
again is not considered to be independent.
5. The HRA and the ECHR article 6 may not
appear at this stage in the development of English law to apply
to the Social Fund Inspector role as the awards are discretionary.
But it strikes welfare workers as fundamentally unfair that it
is those in greatest need, (those who apply for the discretionary
elements of the Social Fund) who find that they are doubly disabled
through their rights to an independent tribunal being denied.
This appears to be very rough justice.
(a) Moreover where the Inspector Review could
be subject to challenge the options are very limited as the route
to a higher court, a Judicial Review, requires not only commitment
but in the individual circumstance experienced some monies are
required to start the process. The applicants don't have the monies.
(b) Claimants submit to the second review
often for a small sum of monies.
(c) Fundamentally the restrictions placed
on the Social Fund discretionary element disposes of any true
assessment of individual need. It is the state of the budget that
determines finally whether to make an award or not. For the applicant
it is a game of chance. From the figures provided (for the last
two years ) by Teesside District Benefits Agency, the Social Fund
budget has always only been able to meet those applying for the
community care grants who have highest priority. Why is it that
the administration of benefits to the poorest operates within
an administrative structure that does not reflect either the community
served or the boundaries of local government administration?
1. Replace discretionary entitlement with
entitlement based on rights.
2. The decision making process must be speeded
up. Crisis loan applications should not be discouraged. Crisis
loans applications should be dealt with there and then. Community
Care Grant applications should be decided on receipt of application
within 24 hours. If the Social Services Department is the appointee
for the applicant then there should be automatic entitlement to
grants and neither crisis or budgeting loans should be awarded.
3. Make the process of application easier
for all applicants. Ensure that those who have communication difficulties
are identified at the outset and the process adopted accordingly.
e.g. individual attention with someone who can communicate in
relevant sign language or acceptance of oral claim from blind
or VIP people.
4. Ensure that translators are available
in the relevant language requested. This should not be a problem
where there exists long established communities. Similarly coordination
with Social Services regarding refugees should prevent translation
5. The existing entitlement for all the
grants and loans should be extended to include people who have
recently lost their job due to disability or are unable to achieve
employment due to disability. The effect this has on the entire
family should be identified and taken fully into account.
6. Extend the role of the Social Fund beyond
the administration of benefits and permit each District to create
and encourage savings for people on low incomes, by matching money
saved, pound for pound, and employ the proposed national bank
with the Post Office.
7. Change the administration boundary of
the Social Fund to be coterminous with local government boundaries.
This would speed up the process of applications as the budget,
the administration and the awards would be for both a recognisable
community, for a smaller population and improve working links
with local government.