Financial insecurity: guidance to local authorities over winter 2021-2022

Guidance to assist local authorities in deploying funding to support households experiencing financial insecurity over the winter 2021-2022.

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

1. Joined-up and proactive

The National Assistance Helpline remains in place and directs callers to local helplines that can act as a single pathway to accessing support by seamlessly connecting services across sectors and providing proactive outreach to the most at-risk households.
Local authorities should continue to ensure that the services referred to from local helplines are up to date. Frontline services that are not connected to local helplines should be made aware of this channel so as to offer joined-up and holistic support as far as possible.
Proactive engagement and action to support households that are known to be financially insecure, including those who have experienced a cut in Universal Credit payments, will help to reduce stress and the need for crisis support.

2. Cash-first
Access to emergency financial assistance can help households to access food, fuel and other essentials that meet their needs and preferences. This can also help to reduce the need for food banks.

a. Scottish Welfare Fund – an active referral to the Scottish Welfare Fund will ordinarily be the priority where a household experiences an income crisis. Local authorities may choose to supplement Scottish Welfare Fund budgets to increase the support they are able to provide.   

Local authorities should continue promoting the availability of crisis grants to services and organisations that come into contact with people experiencing hardship, including those who refer people to food aid providers. This will ensure people are aware of, and can apply for, all of the support that is available to them.
The Scottish Welfare Fund Guidance remains the primary source of information on administering the Fund: Scottish Welfare Fund: statutory guidance – March 2021 - (

b. Other forms of emergency financial assistance may be provided to people experiencing hardship as a supplement to existing support measures in place.

This could include proactive financial assistance to households who are likely to experience hardship, such as households who may have been impacted by the cut to Universal Credit, those who other supports do not reach, and households identified as living on a low income. 
Additional financial assistance could include support to those who may not otherwise be eligible for support, such as people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).
Local authorities may want to consider their powers under s12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, s22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, and s20 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.

c. Shopping vouchers and gift cards may be a useful intervention where immediate assistance is required to access food, fuel or other essentials. Local authorities may want to consider reflections from the Independent Food Aid Network.

Local authorities should consider cash-first responses but have the discretion to respond based on preferences and needs of households and individuals. There will be circumstances in which a cash-first 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.

3. Money advice

Timely and tailored money advice can help to maximise income and ensure that households are in receipt of all the entitlements they are eligible for. This should be integrated at the earliest opportunity and could include locally funded money advice services as well as the Scottish Government’s Money Talk Team which is delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland.

4. Direct assistance with food and fuel

a. Food – where a household would prefer direct assistance to access to food, this should be delivered in a way that maximises dignity and reduces future need through the integration of money advice and wider support.
Care should be taken to understand dietary and cultural needs and preferences. Where people do not have ready access to cooking facilities, such as those who are rough sleeping or are housed in temporary accommodation, the provision of meals and prepared food may be more 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:
The Independent Food Aid Network have produced a series of cash-first leaflets to assist people facing financial hardship and organisations supporting them with an overview of the cash-first and wider support available: Cash First Leaflets - Independent Food Aid Network UK

b. Fuel – Local authorities may want to consider providing financial assistance to households at risk of self-disconnecting due to financial hardship, i.e. when a household stops using gas/electricity/energy entirely due to affordability. This may apply where a household pays in advance for energy – such as pre-payment meter users and those reliant on physical fuel deliveries, e.g. oil and LPG users.

Consideration should also be given to households who are at risk of self-rationing their energy due to financial hardship, i.e. limiting energy use to less than is required to meet their needs in an effort to save money or prevent unmanageable debt.  This may apply regardless of fuel type or payment method.

Local authorities may want to consider working with third sector partners who can provide prepayment meter top-ups, assistance with fuel deliveries, financial support with bills or energy debt, as well as advice on energy debt and how to reduce energy bills. £10 million of the Winter Support Fund has been allocated to organisations with a focus on tackling fuel poverty. Further information and contact details for national partners are at Annex A.

All regulated energy suppliers are required by Ofgem to take a more accommodating approach to credit for consumers who are unable to pay energy bills and to identify pre-payment meter customers who are self-disconnecting and offer short-term support.

Careful 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.

5. Wellbeing approaches

Local authorities are encouraged to consider what other activities may be needed to support wellbeing. 

a. Marginalised groups – local authorities should take an intersectional approach to considering the needs and wellbeing of marginalised groups and people whose voices are less often heard. Working with trusted community partners can provide a range of benefits and increase access to support.

b. Homelessness - local authorities may choose to allocate funding toward accelerating activity to prevent and address all forms of homelessness so that no-one (including those with NRPF) is faced with rough sleeping this winter. The focus should be on reducing the time people spend as homeless, especially in temporary accommodation; ensuring tailored support is available when people need it; and promoting equal access to resources and opportunities.

c. Housing costs – 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 may choose to allocate funding to supplement Discretionary Housing Payment budgets.

d. Other essentials such as period products, digital devices and data, winter clothing, toys and activity packs may be integrated into wraparound support packages.

e. Community and third sector activities – local authorities may want to allocate funding to partner organisations for activities that prevent and respond to financial insecurity and to support wellbeing.

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