Publication - Research and analysis

Consultation on regulations and statutory guidance under the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015: Analysis of Responses

Published: 17 Dec 2015
ISBN:
9781785448843

Report on responses to the consultation on regulations and statutory guidance under the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015.

Consultation on regulations and statutory guidance under the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015: Analysis of Responses
4 LIMITING REPEAT AWARDS FOR CGs AND CCGs

4 LIMITING REPEAT AWARDS FOR CGs AND CCGs

4.1 The consultation document included information about the number of repeat awards for both CCGs and CGs, and noted that between April 2013 and December 2014, around 1% of households (out of 92,600) had applied for a CCG three times or more. In relation to CGs, 23% of households (out of 120,400) applied three times or more in the same period.

4.2 Under the interim SWF, individuals would ordinarily only be given a maximum three CG awards per year. This means that couples or families (two people sharing a household) might be given up to six CG awards per year, as each individual can receive three awards. However, single people, including single parents (not in a shared household) could only be given three CGs per year. This was seen to be unfair to single people, and it was therefore proposed to limit the number of CG awards in any year to three for each household. A similar limit was proposed for CCGs (three per household per year), and the possibility of limiting the number of times that a CCG could be given for the same item in a set period being considered. It was suggested that these proposals would allow the SWF to give grants to as many different people as possible, rather than the Fund being spent on a smaller number of people who apply more often.

4.3 The consultation document asked three questions about these issues.

Question 3: What do you think the consequences would be if we limited CG awards to three per household per year?

Question 4: What do you think the consequences would be if we limited CCG awards to three per household per year?

Question 5: Do you think that there should be a limit on the number of times that a CCG can be given for the same item in a set period? (Yes / No)

If so, what should the limits be? Please explain your answers.

4.4 Questions 3 and 4 were open questions. Respondents were not specifically asked if they agreed (or disagreed) with the proposals; rather they were asked for their views about the consequences of the proposed limits.

4.5 Question 5, on the other hand, did include a tick-box question, and the results of this analysis are presented towards the end of this chapter.

4.6 There was considerable overlap in respondents’ comments at Questions 3, 4 and 5, with the arguments and views presented at Question 3 often repeated at Questions 4 and 5. Thus the responses to these three questions have been considered together in the analysis of Question 3 which concerns the proposal to limit CGs to three per household per year. Any additional points which related specifically to the two questions about CCGs will be presented separately below.

Limiting CG awards (Q3)

4.7 Altogether, 58 respondents (50 organisations and 8 individuals) replied to Question 3. Respondents were more likely to identify negative consequences than positive ones, and although the question did not ask respondents whether they agreed with the proposal, those who highlighted negative consequences often explicitly stated their opposition.

Positive consequences

4.8 Local authorities were the group most likely to identify positive consequences, or to say that there would be no consequences. This group thought the proposed change would be fairer, increase consistency, and avoid discrimination against single parents in particular. They also thought it could have the positive effects of:

  • Encouraging applicants (who are able to) to be more proactive in seeking help, or making them more willing to accept help, to address the underlying causes which led to the crisis (the point was made that applicants sometimes refuse additional help when it is offered)
  • Encouraging a more holistic approach to supporting people in crisis
  • Protecting the Fund from exploitation by a small number of applicants and ensuring funding was available for a wider range of people.

4.9 Some local authorities also thought that the proposed limit would reduce the administrative burden of appeals having to be heard for refusals for the fourth (or more) awards, but others suggested the change could lead to an increase in reviews or complaints by households arguing that their cases are exceptional.

4.10 Some local authorities expressed caveats to their general support, stating that the proposal would be fair and acceptable so long as:

  • Support / money advice was given to applicants after the first CG award
  • Applicants were aware of the limits
  • Local authorities continue to have the discretion to award more than three grants (particularly in cases where there had been a relationship breakdown or an unexpected change to household income).

4.11 To ensure consistency across Scotland, it was suggested that the draft regulations and statutory guidance should clarify the approach to be taken in situations where couples have separated, and when discretion could allow additional awards to be made to individuals who had previously been part of a grant-receiving household.

4.12 Housing organisations and individual respondents were more likely to identify negative consequences than positive ones. However, among those who saw positive impacts, the points made – and the caveats – were similar to those made by local authorities.

4.13 In the Easy Read questionnaire, this question was worded as: ‘Do you think it would be fair to say that each couple can only have three Crisis Grants a year?’ Only one of the Easy Read respondents replied. This individual thought the proposal was fair, but also thought local authorities should be able to make exceptions. The example was given of a couple with a disabled child.

Negative consequences

4.14 While local authorities generally supported the proposal, half the local authorities taking part in the consultation also identified possible adverse consequences, particularly for vulnerable families / children and in situations where domestic abuse may be an issue. These included:

  • Risk of further crisis
  • Increasing reluctance for applicants to apply for support earlier in the year, in case they need to ‘save’ assistance for another time
  • Increasing use of foodbanks
  • Increasing or exacerbating pressure on extended families and charities.

4.15 The potential negative impacts on councils was also highlighted, including the potential for increased pressure on other council budgets, and the practical difficulty and additional administrative burden of determining what constitutes a ‘household’ and of trying to keep track of which household a person was part of when they applied for assistance from the Fund.

4.16 Third sector respondents were almost unanimous in identifying only negative consequences from the proposal. (Only one third sector respondent identified any positive consequences.) This group often highlighted specific populations that would be adversely affected by limiting CGs. These included:

  • Women (particularly those experiencing domestic abuse): This group is more likely to have their finances controlled by a (usually) male head of household. They could be excluded from receiving an award if their partner had already had three CG awards, thus putting their financial independence at risk and making it harder to leave an abusive relationship.
  • Adults with disabilities: This group is more likely to live in a household with multiple adults (parents or other family members), and could be excluded from securing a grant if another adult in their household had already received three grants.
  • Care leavers, looked after children and kinship carers: Looked after children can experience multiple placements and different households; and care leavers can often find the transition to independent living a struggle.
  • Families of prisoners on home leave: DWP benefits are not adjusted to reflect additional costs of hosting a relative, and so some families must manage on below subsistence levels of income during these visits.
  • Victims of racial or disability harassment: This group may have legitimate reasons for needing to move house several times in a year.
  • People with cognitive impairments, or families with a cognitively-impaired child: Some disabilities can result in repeated damage to furniture.
  • People with addictions or mental health problems
  • Children living in a family where a parent has an addiction
  • People who have difficulties in managing their finances due to learning disability, mental health issues or addiction
  • Refugees, who often have to make multiple applications while waiting for benefits to come through.

4.17 Respondents identified the following potential adverse effects from limiting awards for households:

  • An increased use of foodbanks, pawnbrokers, doorstep credit, payday loans and other illegal money lending
  • Increased hardship and risk to health
  • Difficulties in sustaining tenancies and increased homelessness
  • More expensive intervention required later and increased pressure on other local authority services
  • An increase in illegal activity / offending
  • People in genuine need being excluded from accessing a grant.

4.18 This group of respondents often supported their views with reference to existing evidence (including monitoring data from the SWF). They noted that:

  • Repeat applications to the Fund are made in a relatively small number of cases
  • Families accessing the Fund are using it to fulfil the most basic of needs – food and heat
  • Much of the criticism of Universal Credit was that it is being paid to only one individual in the household; there was a view that this system should not be replicated in Scotland
  • Around 11% of CG claimants are not claiming other benefits.

4.19 A view expressed repeatedly by this group was that access to the SWF should be based on need and circumstances, and not on ‘arbitrary limits’. Respondents thought that a further risk of introducing such a limit was that local authorities would treat the upper limit as absolute, thus preventing people from getting assistance when they genuinely needed it.

“[W]e do not agree with the statement in the consultation document that, ‘the SWF should make grants to as many different people who qualify as possible, rather than being spent on a smaller number of people who apply more often.’ The purpose of the fund is to prevent crisis and promote independent living. We believe that SWF awards should be directed to those who most need this kind of intervention, not necessarily the largest number of people.” (Third sector organisation)

4.20 There was also a concern that this proposal seemed to be based on an assumption that people living unsettled lives ‘were getting more out of the Fund that they might deserve,’ and a further concern that applicants may be turned away from the Fund if they have already had three awards, without being given the opportunity to explain their situation.

Other general comments

4.21 Respondents in this group also made a range of more general points, including that:

  • Limiting households to a maximum of three awards does not recognise the complexity of people’s living arrangements and the movement between different households.
  • The proposal is underpinned by an assumption that resources are shared equally within a household and an application made to the SWF is made on behalf of both partners. In reality, one partner could apply for a CG because s/he has been deprived of the means necessary to feed family by a violent spouse.
  • Experiencing one disaster or emergency can make people vulnerable to others. People with mental illnesses or people with severe disabilities are also more likely to experience crisis.
  • A household could comprise a number of people with different needs; and crisis may affect individuals separately.
  • Given the under-spend within the Fund in some areas, the proposal to limit access to it was concerning.
  • Further work should be undertaken to understand why there are repeat applications to the Fund.

“The client group I work with are often vulnerable people who are in and out of custody meaning that very often their benefits are stopped and they have to go long periods of time without receiving any money. I'm finding a lot of my clients are ending up borrowing from local loan sharks and getting themselves into quite serious problems. I have also found a lot of the women I work with are struggling because their partners retain control of their money and have found that on some occasions these women have been left with nothing to heat the house or feed their children. I understand that crisis grants are not there to subsidise people spending their benefits elsewhere but there are people in horribly difficult situations in our communities for whom crisis grants are the difference between them or their children starving or between them having to do dangerous things to be able to get by.” (Individual respondent)

Alternative approaches and mitigation measures

4.22 This group often suggested alternative approaches to limiting access to grants, and / or mitigation measures if the proposal were to be taken forward. Local authority respondents also sometimes offered suggestions for mitigating the potential adverse impacts of limiting grants.

4.23 Alternative approaches sometimes focused on the needs of specific groups. For example:

  • Increase the number of CG applications for single parents from three to six for each 12-month period. This would reflect the fact that being a lone parent may increase the risk of vulnerability. Couples with no children should be restricted to three applications per year.
  • Payment of more than three CGs should be conditional upon the applicant being referred for income maximisation, personal budgeting support and debt advice, and payment should only be made once the applicant has attended an appointment. The target date for processing a CG in these cases should reflect the extended time period required.
  • Allowing award recipients to spread or split the grant payments over a period of time, rather than requiring them to submit further applications to resolve the same crisis.

4.24 Mitigation measures (if the decision is taken to limit awards) included:

  • Publicising this decision widely, particularly to those people who have been using the Fund for the past two years
  • Providing additional specialist support (when an applicant applies for a second award) – this may include financial advice, income maximisation, advocacy support, or support for mental health and wellbeing.

Limiting CCG awards (Q4)

4.25 Fifty-seven (57) respondents (49 organisations and 8 individuals) replied to Question 4 (in relation to limiting CCG awards to three per household per year). As noted in paragraph 4.6 above, respondents’ comments at Question 4 often repeated or reiterated comments made at Question 3.

4.26 However, some additional points were also made at Question 4 which were specific to the purpose of CCGs, and in particular, there appeared to less support among local authorities for introducing a limit on the number of CCGs, with some questioning the reasons for this proposal, highlighting potentially adverse consequences for certain groups, and (in a few cases) stating their opposition to the change.

“The ultimate purpose of CCG is to help individuals to remain or re-settle in their community. Any change to the existing guidance in this area will not enable the policy intent to be satisfied. There is a possibility that we could be imposing hardship on vulnerable members of society. [We] do not support this as claimants who live an unsettled or chaotic way of life sometimes end up having to move tenancies through no fault of their own, so decision makers still need discretion here to ensure the fund is supporting the most vulnerable members of our community.” (Local authority)

4.27 Furthermore, where there was support for this proposal, it was often on the basis that it is ‘rare’ for CCG applicants to request more than three awards per year. Thus, local authority respondents generally thought that a limit of three per year per household would not have any significant consequences, or affect the overall number of claims made in any significant way. This same argument was used by a local government respondents who questioned the need for the proposed limit on CCG awards.

“What would be the policy intention behind this restriction? Official statistics show a limited number of applicants applying for CCG more than once in a year, so the introduction of an arbitrary restriction could seem excessive.” (Local government organisation)

4.28 In the Easy Read consultation, this question was worded as: ‘Do you think it would be fair to say that a person can only have three Community Care Grants a year?’ One respondent answered ‘yes’ and the other answered ‘no’. However, both emphasised the importance of local authorities being able to make exceptions.

Positive consequences

4.29 The following positive consequences were identified by (mostly) local authority and (some) housing respondents:

  • It would stop repeat applications, and ease pressures on agencies and local authorities
  • It would provide an additional incentive to the claimant to try and maintain a tenancy for a longer period
  • It would help to reduce ‘opportunist’ applications and reliance on the Fund thus protecting the budget
  • It might encourage people to take better care of the item they were originally awarded
  • It would reduce the potential misuse of the Fund and allow more people / households in need to be supported

4.30 However, even among those who seemed to support the proposed limit on CCG awards, there was a repeated emphasis on local authorities retaining the discretion to award more than three when the circumstances required it. Respondents called for the draft regulations and statutory guidance to be clear on the issue of local authority discretion.

Negative consequences

4.31 It was thought that the proposal to limit CCG awards could have negative consequences for the following groups.

  • Women (in particular those affected by domestic abuse)
  • Single people and lone parent households (and thus children and young people in the most vulnerable households)
  • Prisoners, and people who care for prisoners or young offenders (on temporary release or on completion of a sentence)
  • Families of looked-after children, kinship carers and care leavers
  • People with a disability or parents of a disabled child / adult.

4.32 Respondents commented that these groups could have entirely legitimate reasons for needing to apply for more than three CCGs in a year. The point was also made that, depending on what type of support an applicant requests in their first application, it would not necessarily make sense to limit the number of applications, but rather to limit the number of applications for the same item. (This latter point will be discussed further in relation to respondents comments at Question 5 below.)

“Where someone successfully applies for a single item on three separate occasions they will have exhausted their right to claim. However, someone who successfully claimed all three items at the same time would still be able to make two further claims. A distinction therefore needs to be made between consecutive applications and repeat applications for the same items rather than the total number of applications.” (Local authority)

4.33 Respondents repeatedly highlighted the importance of CCGs ‘for the most vulnerable people in society’. Those who were opposed to limiting CCG awards challenged the rationale set out in the consultation document in relation to ‘protecting the Fund’:

“The priority here should be not to protect the fund but to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in society. Limiting the number of times a person can avail of a community care grant will not prevent them from needing more support or assistance – providing the best, most adequate support early on would be a far better way to ensure that individuals do not need to make multiple applications to the welfare fund.” (‘Other’ organisational respondent)

4.34 These respondents wanted to see all applications treated on their own merits.

Suggestions for alternative approaches

4.35 Some respondents suggested alternative approaches, including that:

  • The value of repeat applications could be limited, rather than number of applications
  • The statutory guidance should focus on the misuse of items provided through previous CCG awards, but allow authorities the discretion to make additional awards in genuine circumstances
  • The fourth award could be restricted to the provision of floor coverings, as these are not movable from one property to another
  • If there is going to be a limit on CCGs, then this should be a limit per individual and not per household.

4.36 Finally, respondents reiterated the point frequently made in response to Question 3, that repeat applications should be automatically referred for additional support and advice.

Limiting CCG awards for the same item in a set period (Q5)

4.37 Unlike Questions 3 and 4, Question 5 included a tick-box component to the question. Respondents were asked if they thought there should be a limit on the number of times a CCG could be given for the same item in a set period. Follow-up questions asked about what the limits should be, and invited respondents to explain their answers.

4.38 Table 4.1 below shows that respondents were divided in their views on this issue with 51% answering ‘yes’ and 49% answering ‘no’. Local authorities, housing organisations and individual respondents were more likely to answer ‘yes’, while third sector and ‘Other’ organisational respondents were more likely to answer no.

Table 4.1: Do you think that there should be a limit on the number of times that a CCG can be given for the same item in a set period?

Yes

No

Total

Local government

12

67%

6

33%

18

100%

Third sector / equality organisations

1

8%

12

92%

13

100%

Housing organisations

6

75%

2

25%

8

100%

Other organisational respondents

1

25%

3

75%

4

100%

Individuals

6

75%

2

25%

8

100%

Total

26

51%

25

49%

51

100%

4.39 Altogether, 48 respondents (41 organisations and 7 individuals) made comments at Question 5. Irrespective of whether they ticked ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at Question 5, respondents often gave examples of circumstances in which an individual awarded a CCG grant may need to apply for the same item again within a relatively short period of time through no fault of their own. These circumstances were considered to be not very common. For example:

  • A person may apply for a CCG for the installation of a gas / electricity supply on more than one occasion.
  • Bedding may need to be replaced (if a person moves home, and also if there is a disabled child / adult living in the house).
  • A family fleeing domestic violence or racial harassment may need to move house at very short notice.
  • Some groups take time to establish a settled home (e.g. recently released prisoners, care leavers, etc.).
  • Flooding from an uninsured upstairs neighbour could cause damage to property.
  • The applicant could be a victim of theft.

4.40 Therefore, those who ticked ‘yes’ thought local authorities should have the discretion to be able to award the same items again in exceptional cases. This view was echoed by a respondent to the Easy Read consultation.

Reasons for supporting a limit

4.41 Those who ticked ‘yes’ at Question 5 made the point that new white goods / appliances should last for a period of years; that applicants should be expected to take reasonable care of these items; and that applicants would also ordinarily be expected to take these items with them when they move house. There was also a view that providing one household with a replacement item could prevent another household from receiving it.

4.42 Respondents made different suggestions about the period of time for which the limit should apply. This ranged from 12 months to 36 months, and it was suggested that the limit should apply only to white goods / appliances and larger items of furniture. The point was also made that, in general, white goods would be under warranty (warranties appeared to range from 1-3 years according to respondents), and so any need to replace the item in this period would not, in any case, result in an additional cost to the Fund. An exception should be made in cases where an applicant had been given a reconditioned second-hand appliance which may not be under warranty.

4.43 There was a view that smaller items (for example, towels and bedding) should not be restricted, as these items could easily be damaged or worn out more quickly as a result of a medical condition. However, there was also a contrasting view that the limit on other items (i.e. not appliances) should be one year.

4.44 Other points raised by this group included:

  • Decisions about whether to award an applicant a repeat item should take into account whether the person has moved house in that period.
  • Where it would be reasonable to repair the item, rather than replace it, this should be pursued.
  • If the applicant has sold or (wilfully) contributed to the destruction of the item, it should not be replaced.

Reasons for disagreeing with a limit

4.45 Those who disagreed with the proposed limit argued that: a) the number cases in which an applicant might need to reapply for the same item in a short period of time were very small; and b) there can be a range of legitimate reasons for a person to have to do this (as discussed above). This group thought that this type of limit should not be set out in the regulations, but rather that all repeat applications for the same item should be considered on their own merits and the draft statutory guidance should enable local authorities to have the discretion in every case to award the item again.

4.46 Some respondents in this group did, however, agree that if an individual had been careless or deliberately destructive, there could be a case for not awarding the same item again.

Other general points

4.47 A view shared by those who supported a limit and those who did not was that any request to replace an item after a relatively short period of time should be investigated, partly because it may be an indication that the applicant needs additional support to establish a settled home, and partly because it may highlight that the goods being awarded by local authorities are of poor quality.


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