Review of the Scottish Welfare Fund Interim Scheme

The review explores how well the interim arrangements of the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) have worked, from the perspectives of applicants to the SWF and the third sector organisations supporting them. It also provides recommendations for the remainder of the interim period and for the permanent arrangements.

Background and Information About the Study

Policy context

1.1 In December 2010, driven by the localisation agenda, the Coalition Government announced the intention to terminate Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans - two elements of the discretionary Social Fund - from 1 April 2013. Following the Calman Commission's recommendation that responsibility for Community Care Grants should be devolved to Scotland, the UK Government transferred responsibility and funding to the Scottish Government. Following a public consultation the Scottish Government announced that an interim scheme would run for two years from 1 April 2013, administered by local authorities. This is to be replaced by a permanent scheme in 2015, with a legislative footing in a dedicated Parliamentary Bill.

1.2 The Scottish interim scheme was seen by the Scottish Government, local authorities and third sector organisations as an opportunity to improve the flaws of its predecessor scheme. In a wider policy context, the interim replacement scheme for the Social Fund is intended to be consistent with a number of Scottish Government policy priorities, including tackling significant inequalities, improving the life chances of children and families at risk, and the early intervention approach to tackling homelessness. By locating the interim scheme within local authorities the Scottish Government is also seeking to make sure that the scheme meets the Government's aim of there being a 'holistic' and 'joined up' approach to providing support. Finally, by giving more priority to families with dependent children, the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) is envisioned to align with the Government's priorities of tackling child poverty and promoting the welfare of children.

Key features of the Scottish Welfare Fund[1]

1.3 The SWF is a national scheme delivered through local authorities.

  • The fund is split between Community Care and Crisis Grants, with some flexibility in how the funding is allocated.
  • The national budget is split amongst local authorities according to an agreed funding formula.
  • In addition to comprehensive written guidance, the Scottish Government has provided a standardised application form, a guide for decision makers and model documentation, a national training programme, funding for a dedicated Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) Development Officer in order to promote consistency and support implementation and delivery.
  • The guidance sets out a framework for prioritising applications for awards.

1.4 A Crisis Grant can be awarded to meet expenses that have arisen as a result of an emergency or disaster in order to avoid serious damage or serious risk to the health or safety of the applicant or their family.

1.5 A Community Care Grant can be awarded in support of independent living to:

  • Help people establish themselves in the community following a period of care where circumstances indicate that there is a risk of the person not being able to live independently without this help.
  • Help people remain in the community rather than going into care where circumstances indicate that there is a risk of the person not being able to live independently without this help.
  • Help people set up home in the community, as part of a planned resettlement programme, following an unsettled way of life.
  • Help families facing exceptional pressures to provide a safe and secure home environment.
  • Help people to care for a prisoner or young offender on release on temporary licence.

1.6 Other key features of the SWF include:

  • Local authorities have discretion on where in their organisation they process applications and how they link the scheme to existing services.
  • Local authorities can offer assistance in kind rather than cash in order to meet the needs of the applicant and gain economies of scale from bulk purchasing or re-use schemes.
  • The SWF does not offer loans.
  • There is a list of qualifying benefits to help local authorities identify eligible people but the underlying test of eligibility is the severity of need.
  • There is a standard national application form, tailored to the needs of individual local authorities. Applications may be made face to face, on the phone, via on-line applications or by downloading and posting a form, subject to the local authority's ability to provide these options.
  • Where possible, local authorities will work with applicants to identify any other support they may need or be entitled to and refer them to relevant services to help tackle underlying problems.
  • The guidance includes a two-stage process for local authorities to review applications where the applicant does not agree with the decision made.

Research context

1.7 In order to inform the interim scheme and ultimately the Bill on which the permanent scheme will be founded, the Scottish Government has carried out a number of research, consultation and monitoring activities. In 2010 a literature review was conducted on the Social Fund. Following that, a public consultation on the interim scheme was undertaken in 2011, generating 50 responses including 29 from third sector and 13 from local authorities. An Equality Impact Assessment was carried out in 2012.

1.8 Other relevant developments included:

  • Since the launch of the new scheme, local authorities have had a duty to submit applicant data to the Scottish Government. The intention is to publish data on a quarterly basis.
  • In May 2013 the Scottish Government received feedback from the Design and Implementation Group (DIG) members[2] about their early experiences with the delivery of the interim scheme.
  • COSLA has conducted a survey of local authorities on their 'readiness' to implement SWF, while the Scottish Government has made QIVs to local authorities and has regular dialogue with DWP. QIVs have been followed by workshops based on the findings, to share practice.
  • In November 2013 the Scottish Government launched a consultation inviting views on the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill. The consultation closed on 7 February 2014.

1.9 A large volume of research has been produced on the discretionary elements of the (defunct) Social Fund. While there are obvious differences between the interim scheme and the old scheme, there are nevertheless enough similarities to consider this body of knowledge (particularly related to clients' negative experiences and critical views). This has been used in developing the topic guides for interviews with third sector organisations and applicants. Utilising these evaluations will help the study to explore whether the interim scheme has managed, as intended, to address some of the weaknesses of the previous system.

1.10 In this context, past research and evaluations of the Social Fund[3] have identified a number of often significant issues with the application process, including poor decision making by staff (as evidenced by high rates of successful reviews); difficulties with applying by telephone; high rates of initial refusals; awards often being smaller than amounts applied for; poor uptake among older applicants; limited awareness of the Fund; and confusion among many applicants about which grant was most suitable for their needs. Wider criticism suggested that the Fund was sustaining a pattern of dependency.

Aims of the evaluation

1.11 The evaluation's main aim was to explore in a qualitative manner how well the interim arrangements are working, and to identify any recommended changes. Through this, the study was intended to add depth to SWF administrative data collected by local authorities and ultimately to support the Scottish Government in the task of formulating the permanent arrangements.

1.12 The evaluation focus was not on 'teething problems'. The study team have utilised minutes from DIG meetings to gain an understanding of early problems and set these aside from on-going or emerging issues regarding implementation.

Research methods

1.13 The study had two phases. In the first, carried out between October-November 2013, the researchers sought views of third sector support organisations. In the second phase, from January-March 2014 the study team interviewed applicants to the SWF.

The third sector interviewees

1.14 The research team has interviewed representatives from 15 third sector organisations in 17 separate interviews/small-group discussions. Respondents have been working with a wide range of applicant groups:

  • Older people
  • Those leaving prison
  • Disabled people and their carers
  • People with mental health issues and their carers
  • Vulnerable families - including lone parents and victims of domestic abuse
  • Black and minority ethnic communities
  • Homeless people
  • Tenants of RSLs

1.15 The organisations involved in the research are not named here so that the views expressed by individuals are not attributable.

1.16 Nine interviews were undertaken with front-line staff/volunteers while four interviewees held strategic or policy officer posts within their organisation. In four of the interviews/discussions a front-line and policy officer perspective were provided at the same time. It is worth noting that, particularly in smaller organisations, some staff assume both a policy and a frontline role. Many of the respondents had worked in a range of third sector organisations and so offered a broad range of perspectives and experiences.

1.17 Most of the 15 organisations who participated in the research had not seen a large volume of SWF applicants, although some commented that numbers had risen towards autumn 2013.

1.18 It has not proven possible to engage front-line or policy staff from organisations supporting care leavers in the research.

1.19 Likewise, the researchers attempted to collect views from staff representing two organisations supporting formal and informal carers (one Scotland-wide, one local) but could not secure their engagement.

The applicant interviewees

1.20 Interviews with applicants sought to understand the personal experiences of applicants to the SWF and to explore the reasons for current and previous applications, the impact of any award made, any experience of the review process, satisfaction with SWF processes, and suggested changes.

1.21 The research team interviewed 77 SWF applicants over January-March 2014.

1.22 The researchers carried out a combination of proportional and purposeful sampling. By using a database (provided by the Scottish Government) containing case records of all applicants who agreed to be contacted for research purposes (Q2-Q4 2013), the researchers attempted to broadly reflect the composition of the applicant population in the sample (i.e. ensuring an appropriate balance in terms of household composition, equality characteristics and vulnerability[4]). However, as the primary aim was to achieve rich 'saturated' findings about each of the main client categories / equality groups, where the resulting quota was below 5 participants, the researchers oversampled applicants with the given characteristic at the cost of the most numerous group.

Table 1.1 Characteristics of applicant respondents

Vulnerability1 N
Recently experienced homelessness 15
Lone parent 16
Disability (any) 37
Mental health impairment2 24
Learning difficulties 2
Physical disability & chronic illness 15
Domestic abuse 7
Older people (70+) 6
Recent ex-offenders 6
Recent care leavers3 0
Ethnic minority (excl. 'Other British/Irish') 4
Male 42
Female 35
Large urban 29
Semi-urban 21
Small town and rural 27
Award level Community Care Grant Crisis Grant Total5
Full 12 4 16
Partial 20 18 38
Rejected 12 11 23
1 Several respondents had more than one vulnerability.
2 Depression and anxiety were dominant mental health problems.
3 While all available efforts were made to recruit respondents who were recent care leavers, this was unsuccessful . Of 68,407 people who applied between April-September 2013 only 47 were care leavers (source: 4 Large urban >125,000; semi-urban 10,000-125,000; small town < 10,000. 5 About two in five applicants applied for more than one grant or a combination of grants (Community Care Grant + Crisis Grant). The table above only records the most recent application.

1.23 The study sample was split more or less evenly between three types of applicants: those with no or relatively low vulnerabilities; those with medium level vulnerabilities; and finally those with highly complex needs. Community Care Grant applicants in our sample tended to have more complex vulnerabilities than Crisis Grant applicants.

1.24 Respondents interviewed for this study live in 13 out of 32 local authorities, covering the whole large urban - remote rural spectrum.

1.25 Applicants were recruited using case records held by local authorities as well as via third sector support organisations.

1.26 Respondents who participated in the study applied for the SWF between July 2013 and February 2014.

Reasons for applying

1.27 The tables below compare main reasons for applying among the study participants (N=77) and among all SWF applicants who agreed to participate in future research (N=2806, Q2-Q4 2013).

Table 1.2 Reasons for applying for Community Care Grant

All CCG applicants Study sample
Helping people to stay in the community 42.9% 43.5%
Moving out of residential/institutional accommodation 14.2% 17.4%
Families facing exceptional pressure 11.1% 13.0%
Moving home 10.5% 17.4%
Planned resettlement after an unsettled way of life 6.1% 0.0%
Other 15.2% 8.7%

Table 1.3 Reasons for applying for Crisis Grant

All CG applicants Study sample
Emergency - benefit/income spent 49.5% 35.7%
Emergency - other 46.9% 64.3%
Disaster 0.8% 0.0%
Other 2.8% 0.0%

A note about structure of the report, recommendations and quotations

1.28 The report's structure is thematic and follows the key points in the applicant's journey through the SWF process, from hearing about SWF, to applying, receiving the decision, considering a review, and finally receiving the payment.

1.29 Throughout the report the study team's recommendations follow findings in boxes. Where the recommendation was made by third sector respondents or applicants to the SWF, this is reported as a finding in a numbered paragraph, not in the box.

1.30 Labels attributed to quotations indicate the type of grant applied for and, where relevant to the quote, the applicant's vulnerability or circumstances.

1.31 The Guidance to the scheme was updated twice, in October 2013 and in April 2014. As fieldwork for this study was carried out between January and March 2014, some of the issues with the operation of the interim scheme noted below were subsequently addressed by the April 2014 update. Where 'the Guidance' is mentioned in the report, it means the October 2013 version.


1.32 This study is part of the Scottish Government's work to ensure that permanent arrangements for the SWF are informed by evidence both in terms of users' experiences and their advocates' experiences with the interim arrangements. Being qualitative in nature, the study complements available statistical information about the operation of the interim arrangements.

1.33 This chapter has provided details of the two stages of the research process. The study collected views of a wide range of third sector support organisations. Equally, it has collected in-depth accounts from a significant number of applicants. It included voices of main applicant groups (with the exception of recent care leavers) and equalities groups (gender, age, disability and ethnicity).


Email: Franca MacLeod

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