Scottish Welfare Fund review: final report

A comprehensive review of the Scottish Welfare Fund.

7. Experiences of applying: outcomes

Key points

  • Crisis Grant applications have always been more likely than Community Care Grant applications to result in an award. However, award success rates for both grant types fell in the years prior to the pandemic (and remained lower in 2021/22).
  • Falling success rates are likely to reflect multiple factors, including budget pressures, and the changing profile of applicants, with applicants with specific vulnerabilities (who are more likely to be successful) accounting for a smaller proportion of applications in recent years.
  • Pre-pandemic, there were significant differences in SWF application success rates between local authorities, even after controlling for other factors that might impact success. In other words, all other things being equal (household type, reason for applying, disability etc.), the local authority people apply for a grant in has a significant impact on their likelihood of success.
  • The relationship between success rates and budget is complicated – there are local authorities with historic overspends with both high and low success rates, and areas with underspends with both high and low success rates. While budget is clearly one important factor, the evidence suggests there are likely to be other elements, beyond budgets, impacting on differences in success rates between areas.
  • Analysis of other factors that impact on chances of a successful grant generally suggest that level of vulnerability is key, and that grants do appear to be targeted towards those with more recorded vulnerabilities.
  • The average award level for Community Care Grants has reduced over time, while the average Crisis Grant has increased.
  • Pre-pandemic, there were large variations between local authorities in the size of the average Community Care Grant award. These appear to reflect, at least in part, differences between areas in the reasons for applying for grants. However, budget also appears likely to be a factor, with historically under-spending areas making larger average awards.
  • Crisis Grant award levels varied less between local authorities and there was no strong relationship with budget overspends.
  • Interviews with applicants highlighted the huge impacts that receiving SWF grants can have on people, not only financially but for their physical and mental health and relationships. Conversely, when people are turned down for grants, they reported negative impacts for their physical and mental wellbeing and for their feelings about the support available to them in general.
  • The impact of grants was sometimes limited by the amount provided, which was not always felt to be enough to meet the need.
  • There was also a perception that the quality of Community Care Grant items sometimes limited their beneficial impacts. However, there was no consensus on whether it would be better to receive cash rather than goods.
  • In general, applicants did not have a 'plan B' for how to manage if their SWF application was turned down. Alternative options were felt to be limited.
  • Only a minority of applicants to either grant were reported as having been referred to another service provider for help – around a third in each case.
  • There is variation in recorded levels and stated approaches to referrals and signposting between local authorities. Applicants' experiences of referrals and signposting also varied.
  • Taken together, the data indicate scope to increase the use of active referrals, and to improve consistency of both referrals and their recording between local authorities.

This chapter focuses on outcomes from applying to the Fund. It examines quantitative data on how outcomes have changed over time and how they vary between local authorities and between different groups of applicants, before exploring the impact of successful and unsuccessful outcomes, drawing particularly on qualitative interviews with applicants.

Changing outcomes over time

Crisis Grant applications have always been more likely to result in an award compared with applications for Community Care Grants: in 2021/22, 66% of Crisis Grant applications resulted in an award, compared with 55% of Community Care Grant applications.[55]

Award success rates for both grant types fell in the years prior to the pandemic. In 2014/15, 66% of Community Care Grant applications resulted in an award compared with just 54% in 2019/20 (similar to the 2021/22 figure of 55%). In 2013/14, 72% of Crisis Grant applications resulted in an award, falling to 63% receiving an award in 2019/20. Crisis Grant application success rates increased during the pandemic, to 69% in 2020/21, before falling back to 66% in 2021/22 – slightly higher than 2019/20 but still lower compared with previous years.[56]

The reasons for falling success rates are likely to be multiple. Budget pressures are likely to be one factor – as discussed in chapter 4, overall spend on SWF in 2021/22 was 115% of budget, compared with 108% in 2019/20. The complex relationship between budgets and success rates is discussed further below. Analysis of the profile of people receiving awards also indicates that, compared with earlier years of the Fund, there are now more applications but proportionally fewer from people recorded as having specific vulnerabilities. As discussed below, people classed as 'vulnerable' have higher success rates, so this shift in the profile of applicants is also likely to have contributed to a reduction in success rates.[57]

Differences in outcomes between local authorities

Analysis of differences in outcomes focused on 2019/20 data, in recognition of the fact that 2020/21 and 2021/22 data is likely to be atypical given the impacts of the pandemic on both funding and demand. There were significant variations between local authority in success rates for both Community Care and Crisis Grants. These differences between local authority were apparent even in analysis which controls for variation in other factors that might impact on success – such as the vulnerability of applicants or reason for the application. In fact, local authority was the most significant factor in predicting successful Community Care Grant and Crisis Grant applications: in other words, all other things being equal (household type, reason for applying, disability etc.), the local authority people apply for a grant in has a significant impact on their likelihood of success.

This, in turn, raises the question of the extent to which this reflects greater funding pressures in those authorities where chances of success are lower – in other words, would increasing funding increase award success rates? As discussed in chapter 4, any conclusions about future funding allocations between local authorities based on analysis of spend in recent years needs to be approached very carefully, given the finding that a number of local authorities that have previously managed to stay within budget are now predicting overspends. However, analysis of 2019/20 data indicates that the relationship between budget over- and under-spend and success rates is complicated:

  • Local authorities with a higher proportion of successful outcomes had more commonly overspent their budgets. In these cases, increasing funding may be expected to result in helping these areas match local needs better.
  • However, there were also some areas that had historically overspent their budget and had lower than average success rates. Where this is the case, it is less clear how increasing funding would impact – if, for example, lower success rates are due to stricter assessment approaches, additional funding might increase success rates.
  • At the same time, there were also a small number of local authorities with lower than average success rates that had also historically underspent their budget (and also underspent in 2021/22). Where this is the case, it is not clear how increasing funding would impact on outcomes.
  • Similarly, it is less clear how additional funding would benefit areas with high success rates but which have historically underspent their budget (although only one local authority fell into this category – they had recorded an underspend in 2021/22 but predicted an overspend in future). High success rates alongside underspent budgets could, for example, indicate a lack of awareness or promotion, or a reluctance to apply in rural areas.

It is also important to keep in mind that historic underspends are not necessarily an accurate guide to current need and demand. There was concern among a number of local authorities that had historic underspends (including those with underspends in the 2021/22 data) that the Scottish Government might reduce their grant based on this pattern, but a majority of those with historic underspends indicated to this review that they expected to need more than their current budget to meet local need in the current year (2022/23).

The analysis above also indicates that, while increasing budgets for areas with high over-spends and high proportions of successful outcomes areas might be expected to result in a better match between local needs and available funds, predicting the precise impact of increasing budgets across all local authorities is very difficult. The differences described above in relationships between over- and under-spending and the proportion of successful outcomes suggest that that there are likely to be other elements, beyond budgets, impacting on differences in success rates between areas.

Analysis of qualitative data on local approaches and issues, provided by local authorities to this review, does not provide a definitive answer on what drives differences in the patterns and relationships between spend and outcomes between areas. Rather, taken together, the data collated for this review, suggests that a range of factors are at play, which interact in different ways in different areas. These include: differences in approaches to promotion, differences in local cultures around accepting help, differences in the strictness or discretion around the application of rules in the guidance, and adminstrative funding. The final chapter of this report draws on stakeholder suggestions and the experience of the researchers who conducted this review to suggest possible approaches to future monitoring and audit that might help support continual improvements in practice while respecting the complexity of these relationships within different local authorities.

Other factors that impact on success

SWF management data was used to examine how individual characteristics (like applicant age, gender, disability or other vulnerability) and application characteristics (like application mode, or whether a third party made the application on someone's behalf) impact on likelihood of being awarded a grant.[58] It is important to note that this analysis is limited by the data included in the SWF management statistics. High levels of missing information means a number of potentially important variables, such as income, ethnicity, religion or immigration status – which may also be related to chances of success – could not be included in the analysis. As such, the analysis discussed below can only explain part of the variation in outcomes for different applicants – there are likely to be other factors that are not captured here. However, it is still useful in identifying a number of the key drivers of variation in outcomes.

Community Care Grants

As discussed above, local authority is the factor most strongly predictive of successful Community Care Grants applications. Other factors that predict the likelihood of a Community Care Grant application resulting in a successful award include:

  • The reason for the application – those getting help on leaving hospital and leaving other institutions and those needing to move in order to care for someone else were more likely to receive an award compared with those needing help to improve a home to maintain living conditions.
  • Vulnerabilityis important, with those vulnerable due to homelessness, domestic abuse, mental health issues, chronic ill-health and other physical health issues more likely to receive an award than those without these vulnerabilities.
  • The likelihood of a successful application also increased with age, although some vulnerable young people have higher than average success rates, including those leaving care and those living with other young adults.
  • Those who received help to apply and those who had a third party apply on their behalf were more likely to get an award than those who applied alone.
  • Social renters more commonly received awards than private renters or owners.
  • Those in receipt of disability benefitsDLA or PIP – were significantly more likely to receive awards than those not in receipt of these disability-related benefits. In contrast, those on other benefits (e.g. Job Seekers' Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Universal Credit) were significantly less likely than those not in receipt of those benefits to receive an award.
  • Those waiting for benefits were more likely to receive an award, compared with those not waiting. However, as seen above, receiving benefits was not generally associated with greater likelihood of success, except in the case of some disability benefits.
  • Those applying online were less likely to be successful than telephone applicants, while those applying by post were more likely to be successful (possibly due to this being the main mechanism for those leaving prison to apply).
  • Waiting longer for a decision was associated with lower likelihood of an award, as is being a repeat applicant.
  • The time of year the application is made is also significant, with applications in November, December and January less likely to be successful (November and January are months where, as discussed in chapter 3, the level of applications tends to be higher), and applications in March (the end of the financial year) more likely to result in awards.
  • Those referred to debt advice, money advice and the men's advice line were less likely to receive an award. This suggests that these referrals may be made instead of a grant (presumably due to lack of eligibility) while those referred to other services – housing, social work, hospital, CAB and resilience support were more likely to receive an award, indicating these applicants were referred for help as well as receiving an award to help with other issues affecting tenancy sustainment, health and wellbeing.

Overall, this analysis suggests that Community Care Grants are being targeted towards vulnerable people, including homeless people, those fleeing domestic abuse, and often people with disabilities or chronic health issues. However, local authority is also significant, independent of the vulnerability characteristics of applicants.

Crisis Grants

Analysis of factors associated with successful and unsuccessful Crisis Grant applications shows considerable overlap with factors predicting Community Care Grants, including:

  • Local authority, which as discussed is the most important predictor of success for both grant types, independently of other factors
  • Vulnerability of applicants. Those with mental health issues, vulnerable homeless people, chronically ill people and vulnerable lone parents were more likely to receive a Crisis Grant compared to those without these vulnerabilities.
  • Award likelihood increased with age
  • Social renters had a greater likelihood of receiving a Crisis Grant than others, with those in institutional/ homeless settings least likely to receive an award.
  • Online applicants were again less likely than telephone applicants to receive an award.
  • Those with a third-party applying on their behalf had higher success rates.
  • Having a longer waiting time was associated with lower likelihood of an award
  • Applying in March (end of financial year) was more likely to lead to an awardthan applying in January (peak demand in terms of application levels)
  • Referral patterns – Successful applicants more commonly received referrals to housing, employability and men's advice as well as an award, while unsuccessful applicants more commonly received referrals to welfare rights, food banks, social work, resilience support, advocacy and hospital, indicating that these types of referrals may be made instead of an award.

However, in contrast with Community Care Grants:

  • those receiving DLA and PIP benefits were actually less likely to receive a Crisis Grant award (along with many other people receiving benefits, more similarly to Community Care Grants)
  • those receiving help to apply were no more likely to receive a Crisis Grant than those applying independently

Other factors that were significantly associated with likelihood of a Crisis Grant included:

  • Reasons for applying – having an unexpected expense, being stranded away from home without any means to get back, a fire or gas explosion and a delay in payment of benefits were all more likely to result in a Crisis Grant. Reasons less likely to result in an award were: benefit/income being spent, lost money, stolen money, breakdown of relationship within family and having nowhere to stay, as well as flooding, or 'other' disaster and travel.
  • Benefit sanctions and repeat applications were both associated with a reduced likelihood of a Crisis Grant award.
  • Household type and gender were both significant predictors of likelihood of being awarded a Crisis Grant, with single adults more likely to receive an award compared with couples and families, females less likely to get an award compared with males.

In summary, as with Community Care Grants, there is strong evidence that Crisis Grants are targeted to those who are more vulnerable. However, there is also an indication that those in receipt of benefits and others deemed ineligible are being referred elsewhere instead. As with Community Care, local authority is most significant, independent of the characteristics of applicants.

Variation in the profile of SWF grant applicants and recipients over time

As discussed above, although vulnerability is a strong predictor of receiving an award, the data suggests that, overall, people with vulnerabilities accounted for a smaller proportion of applicants by 2020/21 compared with the early years of the Fund – something which may help account for some of the reduction in success rates. The profile of applicants has also changed over time with respect to the nature of applicant vulnerability. For Community Care Grants and Crisis Grants, applications from people with mental health issues have overtaken applications from people with physical health issues and disabilities. This may reflect the more general increase in mental health issues and the correlation between financial hardship and poor mental health.

Award levels

Community Care Grants

Overall, the median award level (the point at which 50% of awards are above this amount and 50% below) for Community Care Grants has reduced over time, from £456.00 in 2013/14 to £417.74 in 2019/20. It fell further to £381.92 in 2020/21,[59] although this may reflect the impact of the pandemic – fewer people were able to move during this period, resulting in a lower requirement for larger items associated with moving home. There was also huge variation by local authority in award levels – pre-pandemic, in 2019/20, the mean award by local authority ranged from £188.13 to £1,067.92.

These differences between local authorities appear, at least in part, to reflect differences in the reasons for applying for Community Care Grants between areas – in a number of areas with higher average awards, a higher proportion of applications were for 'planned resettlement after an unsettled way of life', and so included larger items of expenditure. Grant levels were also strongly related to type of vulnerability – the highest awards were made to those applying because of homelessness, eviction, domestic abuse, or being a young person estranged from their parents. However, budget also appears likely to be a factor - areas with higher average awards also tended to be under-spending on budgets pre-pandemic, suggesting that for these areas, award levels may be less constrained by available budget.

Crisis Grants

In contrast with Community Care Grants, the median level of Crisis Grants has increased over time – from £50 in 2013/14, to £75.24 in 2019/20 and £82.81 in 2020/21.[60] There was also variation in median award levels between local authorities, although to a lesser extent compared with Community Care Grants.

Awards were higher among households with children, which may in part explain differences between local authorities. In contrast with Community Care Grants, there was no particular relationship between award level and budget overspend – higher than average awards were spread across both over- and under-spending local authorities.

Impacts for applicants

In addition to quantitative analysis of what factors shape outcomes for applicants, a key task for the review was to understand the impact these outcomes have for applicants.

Crisis Grants

Interviews with applicants show that the impact of receiving grants through the SWF can be huge, not only financially but also for their physical and mental wellbeing and relationships with others. With respect to Crisis Grants, applicants described the Fund literally enabling them eat or heat their homes. They spoke not only about the mental relief associated with this, but also the impact on their relationships. Crisis Grants enabled people to either travel to visit others or have people in their homes (when they might not have been able to do so otherwise because of a lack of heat or light). They reduced pressure on parents and thereby lessened stress for children. And they helped people avoid straining family relationships by asking others (who they recognised were often themselves short of money) for loans. Beyond these immediate effects, applicants also spoke about the longer-term impact of feeling that there will be support available to them if they find themselves in crisis again:

"Knowing that I can receive support, that was nice … I see everything in a different way"

(Applicant 16)

"It's a great help when you get the text to get the money. It's a relief to know that when you do get paid you don't need to pay back a debt to family… when I get paid I can manage"

(Applicant 46)

"Immense … I could eat for the next 13 days … I just went and got the basics, that's all I needed to get through … I don't know what I would've done without it."

(Applicant 41)

However, although applicants who had received Crisis Grants were extremely positive about the impacts these had had for them, the size of grant could limit the impact. Applicants described instances where the grant had not been sufficient to buy both food and fuel for the timeframe it was meant to cover.

When applications for Crisis Grants were not successful, applicants described equally stark negative impacts for their physical and mental wellbeing.

"It meant life was tough. … It was winter, and we couldn't put heating on, so we were cold. When it came to food it was right, we're having toast. Then we ran out of bread."

(Applicant 28)

"[Not receiving support] It's quite upsetting really, and also [paused, as clearly upset] when you feel you've got nowhere to turn to and stuff, it is quite difficult."

(Applicant 21)

In general, applicants stated that they did not have any 'plan B' for how they would manage if their application was not successful. When turned down, they reported:

  • Asking family and friends for a loan – something which could be experienced as humiliating:

"I hate asking for help, because I've always stayed on my own two feet… and to turn round and say to someone that you need help, you don't want to be doing that."

(Applicant 4)

  • Using a food bank – however, applicants and external stakeholders both noted that the support food banks provide, while often a lifeline, can be limited compared with a Crisis Grant. Different food banks apply different eligibility criteria, the options are limited (which can be problematic when people are on special diets or have children who are fussy eaters), and they are not always easy to get to, especially for those living rurally.
  • Taking out high interest loans, or
  • Simply going without, which could have severe negative impacts:

"I really started to get depressed. Day by day I was sinking. My mental health isn't great just now and that exacerbated any bad feelings I had."

(Applicant 1, who described spending 9 days without electricity after a Crisis Grant application was refused)

A stakeholder also described what they saw as the longer-term impacts of being refused a Crisis Grant for people's trust in government support:

"It's the impact on the clients, you often just see they just become despondent and that's where the loss of faith in local authority and the support that they can provide comes from, … The impact of a negative response can be so far reaching, it's not just about them not getting that 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever amount it is … but how that affects them accessing services or support or help in the future as well."

(External local stakeholder 19, Charity)

Community Care Grants

Applicants also described major positive impacts from receiving a Community Care Grant, both for their physical environment and wellbeing and also for their mental health and how they felt about their home.

"The amount of stress it has helped alleviate, particularly with my own mental health issues … it's a life changer."

(Applicant 37)

"The Grant was really important, because it made me feel I had a safe space where I could survive really, where I could comfortably live without having to worry about, like, how I'm going to cook stuff or stuff like that"

(Applicant 36)

However, similarly to Crisis Grants, there was some discussion of the impacts being limited by grants being partial, resulting in applicants having to fall back on family and friends for items that were not granted, or just go without them until they could save up to buy or replace them.

Applicants and stakeholders also noted quality issues with some of the goods provided to fulfil Community Care Grants, particularly relating to soft furnishings (for example, small sofas or uncomfortable mattresses) and issues with the quality and fit of flooring. However, there were mixed views on whether it would be better to be given cash and choose their own items – one view among both groups was that it was better to have it organised for them and not to have either the hassle or "the opportunity to waste any of the money" (expressed by an applicant who had substance misuse issues at the time of his Community Care Grant). In contrast, others wanted more choice. One stakeholder felt that the delivery of Community Care Grant goods was recognisable in their area, which might be experienced as stigmatising.

The impacts of being turned down for Community Care Grants depended on both what people had applied for and whether they were able to find a back-up option. At the extreme, it was suggested that not getting a Community Care Grant to support a new tenancy could mean an applicant returning to an unsafe place:

"What do people do after that? Go back to an ex, or a property they've left?"

(External local stakeholder 5, advice agency)

Applicants described getting into debt to purchase the items they needed – including borrowing from family and friends, taking out a high interest loan, or requesting a Universal Credit advance. Charities were mentioned as an alternative source of help, but as with foodbanks they were seen as limited in terms of the items they could offer (for example, only providing small items, not white goods). Other applicants had saved up until they could afford the items or in some cases, simply lived without it:

"The lino all lifts up, it's really bad … all you can see is the plywood and the concrete … it's actually quite sharp on your feet when you catch it."

(Applicant 39, who applied for a grant to replace poor quality lino previously provided through SWF and was turned down)

Onward signposting and referrals

The SWF guidance states that "signposting applicants to wider support services or actively referring, where possible, is also a critical area of best practice for local authorities." Beyond the actual grant decision itself, signposting and referrals were also important outcomes, particularly in a context where overall success rates have fallen over time, so referral to other services is arguably even more important.

According to the SWF management data, only a minority of applicants for either Community Care or Crisis Grants are reported as having been referred to another service provider for help – around a third in each case in 2020/21,[61] although referrals from both have increased over time. However, beneath the overall pattern of low referrals, some local authorities report quite high levels of referral, while others are reporting almost none.[62] It is difficult to determine the extent to which this reflects differential rates of recording of referrals in the monitoring data, or differential rates of referrals.

All local authorities interviewed for the review discussed signposting to additional support. However, there was variation between areas in terms of:

  • Whether all applicants were signposted to additional support, or whether this focused primarily on unsuccessful applicants and/or repeat applicants. For example, some areas said they signposted all applicants to money advice, but also highlighted other services to unsuccessful applicants (particularly foodbanks – which reflects the findings above that referral to foodbank was associated with unsuccessful applications).
  • Whether local authorities were only signposting (i.e. pointing out or sharing contact details for other potential sources of help) or were actively referring (i.e. actually arranging appointments or actively putting them in touch with another service.

Applicants' accounts also suggest that experiences of onward signposting and referrals was very variable, for both successful and unsuccessful applicants. There were examples where onward signposting or referral seemed to have made a significant difference to applicants – for example, signposting them to schemes that helped with vouchers for fuel, which helped them avoid needing to apply for a Crisis Grant again. However, applicants also noted limitations to the usefulness of signposting, such as the issues with food banks discussed above, or the variability in the help that power companies will offer those struggling with bills (which was believed to depend both on who you speak to and whether you had asked for help previously).

Analysis of the monitoring data shows that some areas that were recording lower levels of referrals were areas with higher levels of successful awards. In these cases, low referrals may be due to a lower perceived need for alternative assistance. However, taken together, the quantitative and qualitative evidence indicate scope to increase the use of active referrals, and to improve consistency of both referrals and their recording between local authorities.

Local authorities also discussed the challenges of actually engaging applicants with additional support, particularly as they are not obliged to take up this support and are primarily concerned with alleviating their immediate financial crisis at the point they are in contact with the SWF team. It was also noted that it can be difficult for SWF teams to effectively identify the underlying cause of crisis. This was seen as a particular challenge for repeat applicants – there was a perception among some in SWF teams that some applicants are aware of the requirement to give different reasons for each application (since Crisis Grants are supposed to be for one-off crises), which acts as a disincentive to give an accurate picture of the underlying issues bringing them back to the Fund. Finally, administrative resourcing was seen as a barrier to local authority teams being able to provide more active signposting and referral – one local authority team that felt they had previously offered more actual referrals commented:

"because of the volume of work we've got at the moment … we tend to just do the food bank referrals and the rest of the time we just give them the contact information for the charities or people that can help them."

(Local Authority decision makers, Area E)



Back to top