Background to the consultation
1. This report details the views of respondents to a consultation about how Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, two discretionary elements of the Social Fund, might operate in Scotland when funding transfers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the Scottish Government in April 2013. The consultation paper on the successor arrangements was published in August 2011 by the Scottish Government. The consultation paper made it clear that the devolved funding should continue to address similar needs to those of the present system, currently administered by Jobcentre Plus.
Responses to the consultation
2. There were a total of 50 responses: these were self-selected, rather than representative of views across Scotland. Forty-six responses were from organisations, with 4 individual responses from people with professional experience of the issues. Twenty-nine responses were from third sector organisations, 13 from local authorities and 4 from other public sector organisations, including the Social Fund Commissioner. Amongst the third sector respondents, almost two-thirds were organisations with a national remit and a third were more locally focused. Third sector responses include social enterprises.
3. Responses were received from organisations that represent a number of equalities groups and from broad-based umbrella groups or alliances. However, no direct responses came from black and minority ethnic organisations or from those working with the elderly. Moreover, there was little commentary provided from a health service perspective.
General views on the successor arrangements
4. Respondents welcomed the devolution of the Social Fund as an opportunity for the Scottish Government to remedy the deficiencies and complexities of the existing system and to secure better integration with other aspects of welfare and public policy in Scotland.
A need for more information and concerns about funding
5. There was a common desire to have more information about the parameters of the future system and a number of caveats in relation to the level of funding, eligibility criteria, the balance of demand and supply, ring-fencing of funds, financial risk to local authorities and the interface with forthcoming welfare benefit changes. Respondents wanted more clarity about how the successor arrangements will address the needs of people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act.
Qualified endorsement for a single grant fund
6. Respondents gave a qualified endorsement of the proposal for a single grant fund. This was seen to offer financial benefits, both to applicants and organisations, by reducing complexity, improving effectiveness, lowering delivery and administration costs and maximising available resources. This approach was also seen as fitting well with other key Scottish Government policies.
7. Those that did not clearly endorse the option of a single grant fund saw benefits in running a system of both grants and loans. The key advantage of loans was in recycling funds back into the system.
Access to low interest loans
8. A major concern was that successor arrangements should address the current lack of affordable credit, resulting in applicants being forced to turn to high-cost and risky options for borrowing.
Scope for both: preferred delivery arrangements and channels
9. Overall, where a preference was expressed, it was for local delivery, particularly by local authorities and they were the most widely proposed organisations to take on successor arrangements. Preference for central delivery came almost entirely from the third sector. However, respondents also saw scope for taking the best elements of both central and local delivery approaches.
Retain a client focus: delivery channels
10. Respondents felt a blend of delivery channels would best support a client-focused approach, able to meet a variety of needs, by providing a tailored service to assist the most vulnerable, to promote accessibility of the service and give choice.
Eligibility: focus on needs
11. Eligibility and prioritisation should be based on individual need and the immediacy and extent of any threat to health and wellbeing, rather than on particular groups or events. Respondents felt that eligibility definitions should be provided as guidance rather than being prescriptive.
Offer both grants and goods
12. The option of both goods and grants was broadly supported to enable individual circumstances to be addressed, while giving people choice and offering flexibility.
Provide optional support and advice
13. Respondents were generally in favour of offering other types of support such as budgeting advice with the strong caveat that such support should not be compulsory.
Ensure effective appeals
14. The successor arrangements were seen to offer an opportunity to establish an independent, quick and timely, fully accessible and transparent appeals system. By getting it right at the application stage, the volume of appeals could be substantially reduced.
Other views on the succession arrangements
15. A number of practical issues regarding implementation were raised in order to have a fully-operational grant system in place across Scotland by 1 April 2013 at the same time as other major welfare reforms. There is a need for further consultation to understand how the devolved fund would work in practice, in particular how it might impact on specific equalities groups.