4 Refocusing scheme eligibility
4.1 The consultation paper sought views about whether there should be measures to re-focus scheme eligibility. It highlighted a concern about a lack of clarity of the current eligibility criteria, which results in a high volume of appeals, consequent high administrative costs and diversion of funds away from directly meeting needs. The paper suggested that the criteria could be modified to focus on particular groups or life events.
4.2 At present, eligibility for Community Care Grants is restricted to those already getting certain benefits or likely to start getting one of these benefits within the next six weeks because of moving out of care. Applicants must also meet one of the following criteria although there are also a substantial number of exclusions:
- Needs help because the applicant or family is facing exceptional pressure, such as family breakdown or because one of them has a long-term illness
- Needs help to stay in home and not go into residential care or hospital
- Is moving out of residential or institutional care to live independently
- Is moving to a new home which will be more suitable following an unsettled period in life and are being resettled by an organisation like a local council or voluntary organisation
- Needs help with certain travelling expenses, e.g. visiting someone who is ill, or to attend a relative's funeral
- Looks after someone who is ill or disabled, or has been released from custody on temporary licence.
4.3 Eligibility for Crisis Loans is not linked to receipt of particular benefits. The applicant must either not have enough money to meet their own (or their family's) immediate short-term needs in an emergency or as the result of a disaster and there is serious damage or risk to their own (or their family's) health or safety without the loan, or they must have been getting a Community Care Grant, be moving out of institutional or residential accommodation and not have enough money to pay advance rent to a non-local authority landlord.
Groups as a focus of eligibility
4.4 Respondents agreed that eligibility under the successor arrangements needs to be very clear. However, there was a desire to ensure that a national system would have the flexibility and sensitivity to be able to assess and identify changing patterns of need and respond accordingly. The idea that either groups or events should be the focus of eligibility was challenged. There were potential problems with defining eligibility both too narrowly or too widely, with potential to create unequal treatment in both cases.
"The Scottish Government has repeatedly championed the benefit of taking an early intervention approach to poverty and hardship and we would urge it to remember this in its development of a devolved social fund. By taking an overly limited approach to eligibility, the Government would risk pushing people into further poverty, exclusion and ill-health." (Third sector)
4.5 It was argued that labels, categories or target groups run the risk of homogenising very disparate needs and can become rigid in their interpretation. This may cut across the need to consider each claim on its merits and take into account changing needs over time. Any categorisation of eligibility is bound to have omissions:
"Categorisation of eligibility is the only rational way to administer a cash limited fund. However it puts at risk other individuals in need. Interestingly the mortality rate in the west of Scotland showed that deaths of young men from suicide were a cause for concern. Often this group are categorised as least vulnerable." (Third sector)
4.6 Instead of naming groups which causes disadvantage and discrimination, it was argued that eligibility and prioritisation should be based on individual need and the immediacy and extent of any threat to the individual and their families' health and wellbeing.
4.7 It was proposed that the groups currently targeted for Community Care Grants or Crisis Loans are adequate and remain appropriate for inclusion in the successor arrangements. An outcome focus was also suggested to be appropriate and any definitions should be seen as providing guidance rather than being prescriptive. Defining eligible events or circumstances was seen as potentially less restrictive than specifying groups.
Proposed groups and reasons
4.8 Despite reservations, many respondents of all types did name groups or events that they felt should be the focus of the successor arrangements. It was acknowledged that it is difficult to produce an exhaustive list of groups or events; respondents made the link to the need for training of staff to ensure their understanding of the circumstances of applicants in exercising their discretion. Groups and events were often intertwined. The kind of groups mentioned included:
- The disabled
- Those with life-limiting illnesses
- Those with mental health issues
- Older people
- Younger people
- Households with children at higher risk of severe poverty
- The homeless
- Those experiencing fire or flood or other emergency
- People resettling after leaving prison, long-term hospital care, a womens' refuge, residential care or after a period of homelessness
- People leaving the armed forces.
4.9 In giving their rationale for naming specific groups, the impact of welfare reform for disabled people was referred to, suggesting that this group would be particularly vulnerable to loss of income, financial and personal hardship.
4.10 A focus on families with children was suggested as a high priority for assistance within a wider scheme of eligibility.
"A key focus of the scheme should be families with children. Children do not make their own circumstances nor control them, and they are more likely to live in poverty than either working age adults or pensioners. A key aim of the Scottish Government is early intervention, and recent research demonstrates the importance of ensuring that our children get the best possible start in life." (Third sector)
4.11 Families with children are more likely to live in poverty than other family types. There are a number of groups of children at higher risk of severe poverty, including those children:
- Living in workless families
- Living in single parent families
- Who live in social rented housing
- Who are disabled or live with a disabled adult
- Living with young parents aged under 25
- Living in large families with three or more children.
4.12 Abolition of UK-wide grants for specific circumstances was also a concern that highlighted pregnant women as another potential eligible group.
4.13 In proposing the homeless as an eligible group, several third sector organisations submitted evidence highlighting the important role of Community Care Grants in the move from temporary to permanent accommodation, weaknesses in the current system and the potential for the successor arrangements to contribute to reaching the Scottish target that, by the end of December 2012, all unintentionally homeless households will have the right to settled accommodation.
4.14 Respondents' comments on the difficulties in the interface between Community Care Grants and Housing Benefit are discussed in paragraph 2.14. Based on this evidence, it was proposed that the successor arrangements should have the flexibility to address these issues and thereby support local policies on homelessness prevention. For example, it was noted that an 'in principle' decision by DWP would allow an initial award of the grant, thus preventing rent arrears.
4.15 Similar unintended impacts of the current administrative systems for other groups were also cited by respondents, including substantial delays between the date of claim and a decision despite the urgency of the needs which require that the award of grant is made quickly. Claimants with similar family circumstances and income levels were also reported to often receive widely differing awards. There was also a perception that claims are granted on appeal with no additional information.
4.16 These examples illustrate how administrative systems can distort the assessment of need, lead to different outcomes for apparently similar groups and result in perceptions of a lack of transparency.
4.17 In other cases, the groups and events currently targeted for Community Care Grants or Crisis Loans were seen to be adequate and respondents suggested that they remain appropriate for inclusion in the successor arrangements. One exception was the preference for eligibility criteria to refer to 'people (rather than families) experiencing exceptional pressures'.
4.18 Others made the case that the current groups should be extended and that those in work should not be treated any less favourably:
"All groups as at present, plus people on low income and contribution-based benefits should be included. It is unfair that people who have been or who are currently in work are treated less favourably. All groups facing extra pressure that could be alleviated by a grant should be included; not just families as at present." (Local authority)
4.19 It was suggested that the consultation paper had been unclear about whether Crisis Loan applications (as well as Community Care Grant applications) should also be focused on specific eligible groups. An example was given of clients that require financial assistance as a result of an emergency, such as a lost wallet or purse or where benefit has been spent before the next payment date, but who are not within the eligible groups.
4.20 Local authorities were also concerned about increased claims for Social Work funds by those outwith eligible groups creating an 'unrealistic demand on limited social work budgets.'
Proposed events and reasons
4.21 In considering whether events should be the focus of successor arrangements, respondents proposed a number of categories based largely on key life stages and transitions where there is vulnerability. Respondents identified the following as important and expensive life events that households on a low income or in persistent poverty will struggle to manage:
- Pregnancy, birth or adoption
- Eviction / repossession
- Looking after a relative
- Long term illness or accident
- Family breakdown
- Lack or failure of household goods
- Moving from a care setting; or to avoid going into care; moving between homes in the community, moving into a home after a period of homelessness or imprisonment.
4.22 In addition, unexpected costs (often transport-related) at the time of a crisis, such as hospital admission, family member detention or bereavement were also highlighted.
4.23 Whilst life events were recognised as creating a need for a substantial financial outlay, it was suggested that it is not always events that are a 'trigger for need' ; rather this arises out of everyday wear and tear made more difficult by a long period of living in poverty.
Other views on eligibility
4.24 In discussing eligibility, respondents generally agreed with a focus on early intervention, with the caveat that it should not be at the expense of those in the most desperate need. There was also a desire to see support to individuals and families to reduce ongoing costs and support their wellbeing in the medium to longer term, as well as the short term.
4.25 Other principles of eligibility identified were in relation to helping families remain together, reinforcing the capability and resilience of those eligible for help, enabling people to stay in their home rather than be in hospital, and ensuring that people have the basic practical necessities for dignity.
4.26 Recognising the limitations of any categories of eligibility, it was suggested that there should be 'a catch-all criterion', along the lines of 'faces a substantial risk to health or well-being if not supported with current financial needs'.
4.27 Several respondents suggested that it could be possible to incorporate other locally administered schemes with adequate safeguards to protect the overall level of funds and eligibility.
4.28 It was also proposed that decisions on eligibility should be devolved to the local level to ensure that decisions can take a range of local issues into account. Local authorities would also undertake Equality and Poverty Impact Assessments.
Summary of views on eligibility
4.29 The idea that either groups or events should be the focus of eligibility was challenged. Ideally, eligibility and prioritisation should be based on individual need and the immediacy and extent of any threat to the individual and their families' health and wellbeing. Any definitions should be seen as providing guidance rather than being prescriptive. Respondents generally agreed with a focus on early intervention but felt that should not prevent providing assistance to those in greatest need.
4.30 Despite these caveats, respondents did name groups or events that they felt should be the focus of the successor arrangements. Groups included:
- Those with physical or mental health problems
- Older people and younger people
- Households with children / single-parent households
- People experiencing fire, flood or other emergency
- Homeless people and those at risk of homelessness
- People in transition (from prison, hospital care, or armed forces).
4.31 Respondents suggested a number of life events that households on a low income or in persistent poverty would struggle to manage, including:
- Pregnancy, birth or adoption
- Looking after a relative
- Eviction, repossession or homelessness
- Long-term illness or accident; family breakdown
- Lack or failure of household goods
- Moving house.