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 makingthe 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
2. Budgeting Loansthe 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 Loanswe have come
across instances where Crisis Loans have been refused in cases
of extreme hardship.
4. Community Care GrantsThe
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
5. Discharged Prisoners and Community
Care Grantsthere 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