Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on tackling financial insecurity over winter

Guidance to local authorities to help tackle financial insecurity and support households with food and fuel over the winter

Guiding principles

A series of guiding principles has been developed to support local thinking about how funding can best be targeted and deployed. These principles are as follows:

  • Joined-up and proactive – the investment in local and national helplines has brought together key public and community services to ensure that people experiencing hardship are easily able to access a full range of financial, material and social support. Ensuring the services available are up to date and that seamless referrals are in place between organisations and services will help to meet whole needs, taking a ‘no wrong door’ approach.
    Proactive engagement and action to support household’s known to be financially at risk, including those who are waiting for Universal Credit, will help to reduce stress and the need for crisis support.
  • Money advice – getting money advice can help people make the most of their budgets and avoid financial difficulties. Reduced and insecure household income is leading people who previously would not have required it to seek advice. Access to money advice should be offered at the earliest opportunity be that through local authority funded money advice services or the Scottish Government’s Money Talk Team income maximisation service delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland. This will help to maximise incomes, ensure households are in receipt of all the entitlements they are eligible for, and reduce financial insecurity.
  • Scottish Welfare Fund – where a household is experiencing an income crisis, an active referral to the Scottish Welfare Fund should ordinarily be the priority, with wider support wrapped around. Local authorities are able to supplement Scottish Welfare Fund budgets to ensure that demand is met in full.
    The regulations governing the Scottish Welfare Fund allow a local authority to make more than 3 crisis grant payments to an individual in a 12 month period if it considers there are exceptional circumstances. The Scottish Government has written to practitioners to note that the current circumstances are considered to be exceptional. Cascading this information to across services and partner organisations will help to ensure that people who may be eligible receive support. In particular, promoting the availability of crisis grants to organisations that refer people to food aid providers will help to reach people experiencing hardship.
    It should be noted that EU nationals do not fall within the group of people to whom ‘no recourse to public funds’ applies, for the purposes of applying to the Scottish Welfare Fund.
    Crisis grants may be an important source of support to individuals who are not eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.
    The Scottish Welfare Fund Guidance remains the primary source of information on administering the Fund.
  • Income based responses – Local authorities should consider income-based responses but have the discretion to respond based on preferences and needs of households and individuals. There will be circumstances in which an income based approach may not be suitable, including where there is household debt where payments into bank accounts can be absorbed by unauthorised overdrafts,  or domestic violence or coercion. 
    Scottish Government note that strong stakeholder representations have been made that direct financial transfers offer choice, accessibility and discretion in a way that vouchers or other in-kind delivery approaches may not.

    Local authorities can provide financial support in addition to statutory schemes, in order to support those who may not otherwise be entitled such as people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), or to intervene earlier when a household is known to be financially at risk. This includes making payments using social work powers under s12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 or s22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. Local authorities may also want to consider the power to advance wellbeing under s20 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.
    Vouchers may in some cases be a suitable alternative to direct financial transfers. Local authorities may want to identify the key referral partners to food aid providers and work with them to provide a voucher in place of or alongside a food bank referral where appropriate, as outlined by the Independent Food Aid Network.
  • Appropriate food provision – some households may experience financial barriers and physical or digital barriers to accessing food concurrently. When a household would prefer direct access to food alongside income based support, care should be taken to understand dietary and cultural needs, and the nutritional quality of food. Reducing the need for food aid through money advice and income based interventions should remain a priority.
    Where people do not have ready access to cooking facilities, such as those who are rough sleeping or being housed in temporary accommodation, the provision of meals and prepared food, rather than money to buy food, may be most appropriate.
    Food can be provided through public sector catering services or in partnership with community food organisations. Food Standards Scotland can be contacted for further advice:
    Nourish Scotland and the Dignity Peer Network have produced advice on how to maintain dignity in community food provision.
  • Support with fuel –  Local authorities may want to contact energy suppliers to help arrange short term support for households who are struggling with energy costs. As of 15 December 2020 new requirements will be introduced for electricity/gas suppliers to identify pre-payment meter customers who are self-disconnecting and offer short-term support as well as to enhance support to all customers who are facing financial difficulties including setting debt repayment rates based on the customer’s ability to pay. Any financial support provided by suppliers is likely to require to be repaid so this may not always be appropriate, local authorities may therefore wish to utilise resource from this financial insecurity funding to provide support.
    Local authorities can utilise the flexibility in funding to directly top up pre-payment meters. National organisations such as the Fuelbank Foundation and Home Energy Scotland are able to provide same-day remote top-ups, which can form part of a wider referral pathway incorporating advice on managing bills and switching suppliers. More information on how to partner with the Fuelbank Foundation is contained in Annex A.  Further to this, local authorities may want to consider providing direct assistance to others who pay in advance for their fuel, such as those reliant on physical fuel deliveries, e.g. oil or lpg, who are experiencing financial difficulties
    Additional consideration should be given to households who may require a higher level of energy to heat homes including Gypsy / Traveller communities with low insulation in trailers and amenity blocks. Thought should also be given to the likely higher costs associated with keeping spaces ventilated and warm to avoid indoor transmission and whether direct support is appropriate.
  • Discretionary Housing Payments – households that are in receipt of housing benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit may be eligible for a discretionary payment to assist with shortfalls between rent charged and benefit support provided. This is in addition to mitigating the cost of the bedroom tax. Local authorities are able to use this resource to supplement Discretionary Housing Payment budgets.
  • Wellbeing approaches – in addition to income based support and the direct provision of essentials, the whole needs of a household should be considered – in particular the social and cultural needs of people. Taking the time to build relationships will help to tackle isolation, support mental health and identify wider needs.
    It is recommended that local authorities consider what action is needed to maintain the wellbeing of people who are less engaged with services and those with complex needs, across their communities with careful consideration to the intersecting challenges. Working with community organisations can provide a range of benefits and enhance this support.
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