19. TACKLING POVERTY: FINANCIAL INCLUSION
The purpose of this chapter is to summarise the issues which have an impact on carers' level of income and to set out actions to help carers maximise their income. Policy on, and administration of, all benefits and tax credits, including the Carer's Allowance, is the responsibility of the UK Government.
19.1 Poverty and worries about finances can have an adverse impact on carers' health, wellbeing and quality of life.
19.2 A wide range of issues impacts on carers' level of income. Carers can experience significant financial hardship as a consequence of their caring role. They are often faced with additional costs, including fuel costs, 37 as a result of the illness or disability of the person they care for, and their caring responsibilities can act as a barrier to entering paid employment.
"Because the house is used 24/7, gas and electricity consumption is higher than for those who go out to work. I estimate at least double that of working people."
19.3 Many carers, both those aged over 60 and younger carers, do not claim the full range of benefits to which they are entitled. They miss out on pension credits, the Carer's Allowance and other benefits. 38
19.4 While the Scottish Government does not have responsibility for the welfare system, it does have some important levers to influence the uptake of benefits. It has made clear statements about the importance of the benefit and tax credit system working in partnership with local welfare rights information and advice services to maximise income and promote financial capability. The Scottish Government and COSLA framework for tackling poverty and income inequality, Achieving our Potential,39 sets out the wider approach to addressing poverty and disadvantage.
19.5 Income maximisation support is vital at points of transition in people's lives, and should be integrated with holistic services that address all aspects of financial and social exclusion and health and wellbeing. It is important to ensure that people claim all of the financial support to which they are entitled but the work on income maximisation is wider than that. It includes reducing expenditure by, for example, providing advice on the best fuel tariffs or on home insulation, or helping people to manage their debts. It involves a wide range of partners in addition to the named agency.
19.6 A range of support exists to help those with caring responsibilities to access all of the benefits, tax credits and grants that they are entitled to. Welfare rights services are central to local citizens advice bureaux. Many other locally-based services also focus on those communities and households which are most vulnerable to poor outcomes. Increasingly, Community Planning Partnerships are enhancing established mainstream services to provide holistic and responsive care which addresses all aspects of life circumstances, such as income maximisation, debt advice, access to affordable credit and supporting financial capability. The Scottish Government plans to explore the role of Single Shared Assessments in ensuring that carers are aware of, and receiving all of, the benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled, and in referring individuals for benefit checks where appropriate.
19.7 Arrangements for supporting financial capability locally vary across the country, with services provided by, amongst others, local authorities, community and voluntary groups, credit unions and Citizens Advice Bureaux. Nationwide services are provided by helplines such as Citizens Advice Direct, Care Information Scotland and the National Debtline. The Consumer Financial Education Body's service, Moneymadeclear, offers information and guidance on financial matters, tailored to an individual's needs and circumstances. It is a proactive, early intervention service aiming to help people make confident, informed decisions and make the most of their money, without trying to sell them financial products.
19.8 Moneymadeclear is available on the phone, on the web and currently face-to-face in the Glasgow area. The face-to-face service will be available across Scotland from the end of 201040.
19.9 Intermediaries that deliver advice and support to carers are encouraged to access training which increases the capacity of frontline agencies to provide accurate, high quality and effective advice and information on tax credits and other welfare benefits to eligible claimants. This will help maximise the potential income available to families and individuals. The Child Poverty Action Group Second Tier Advice Project delivers such training, funded by the Scottish Governmen 41.
19.10 Since April 2009, income maximisation checks have been undertaken as part of the Energy Assistance Package. These are carried out by the Pensions Service for people aged 60 and over, and by Citizens Advice Direct for those aged under 60. Appendix9 provides background on the Energy Assistance Package.
19.11 Carer organisations, other Third Sector and statutory bodies should continue to raise awareness of the benefits to which carers, and those they care for, may be entitled to.
ACTION POINT 19.1
The Scottish Government will pursue with the new UK Government, as it did with the previous administration, the level of the Carer's Allowance and a review of financial support to carers.
ACTION POINT 19.2
The Scottish Government will work with local authorities and the NHS to enhance the role of Single Shared Assessments and Carers Assessments (Carer Support Plans) as opportunities to promote financial inclusion for carers.
19.12 Carers can be concerned about local authority charging policies for a range of social care services and supports. They cite a range of issues, including lack of consultation on increased charging, sharp means testing tapers on respite charges and differences in approach in different areas.
19.13 Local authorities will continue to charge service users and carers for services and support. However, COSLA promotes the use of consistent and transparent charging policies across the country and refreshes its charging guidance on an annual basis. COSLA is also moving to an online facility, whereby every council's charging policy will be available to view online. A benchmarking facility is also planned for practitioners in local authorities in order to achieve consistency in the way charging policies are formulated.
ACTION POINT 19.3
COSLAwill create a benchmarking network to facilitate consistent approaches to charging for non-residential social care services across local authorities. Work will be undertaken annually to assess levels of consistency across Scotland. As part of this process COSLA will engage with national carers organisations to listen and respond to any concerns.