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.

2 Awareness and understanding of the scottish welfare fund

2.1 This chapter explores the applicants' experiences during the first stage of their journey: finding out about the SWF and understanding how it works. This chapter also probes the awareness and understanding of the scheme among those who support and advocate for applicants.

Awareness and understanding among applicants

Views of third sector support organisations on awareness among their clients

2.2 There was a commonly held view among third sector organisations that potential applicants were not aware of the SWF, or were aware that the Social Fund was no longer in existence but did not know what, if anything, had replaced it. One front-line advisor suggested that clients were a bit 'bamboozled' by all the current welfare changes.

2.3 In many cases, it was the third sector organisation who brought the scheme to the attention of potential beneficiaries, particularly for Community Care Grants. This applied to homeless applicants, tenants, older people or disabled people with changing needs. This 'pro-active' role for third sector organisations worked well where there is an on-going relationship with clients. However, it raised concerns that people not in contact with third sector organisations might have difficulties accessing the SWF.

2.4 In some organisations, front-line staff had the impression that their service users were confused about the source of the help they received, so might have thought that the third sector organisation itself or the food bank, rather than the SWF, had provided the goods/money/vouchers.

2.5 It was felt by many third sector representatives that increasing awareness among potential applicants needed more local media coverage, through posters, local press and radio. It was also noted by several respondents that the marketing of the scheme had increased towards autumn 2013 (when interviews with the third sector were conducted) and this was seen as a positive response which showed that the Scottish Government and the SWF teams locally are acting on received feedback. However, one policy manager felt that the communication had been 'cluttered' and so less effective than it might have been.

2.6 Other front-line workers said they had seen 'nothing' in the way of marketing. They also said they had not been provided any leaflets or materials to use with clients. However, the research team were able to access materials online using the search term 'Scottish Welfare Fund Leaflet'. These included the Scottish Government Leaflet, then local authority leaflets and one from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

2.7 Some organisations that had been engaging with the available materials and developing their own - factsheets, newsletters etc. tailored towards their own clients, based on the Scottish Government Guidance.

2.8 A number of third sector respondents felt that awareness among potential applicants was strongly determined by their contact with services and the awareness among front-line staff. For people not in on-going contact with services, accessing information can be difficult. Pension-age people for instance often have no interaction with the state/local authority.

Applicants' own accounts of how they heard about the scheme

2.9 As third sector interviewees suggested, Community Care Grant applicants themselves said that they largely relied on the services they were already in contact with to make them aware of the SWF. One in three Community Care Grant applicants were made aware of the SWF by their homeless support worker or social worker, while a similar proportion heard about the SWF from a third sector welfare rights or housing rights agency.

2.10 Job Centre Plus was mentioned by one in ten Community Care Grant respondents and slightly more relied on the local authority or their social landlord to signpost them to the SWF.

2.11 It was uncommon for applicants to have mentioned direct advertising - posters or adverts. Only two applicants interviewed had become aware of the scheme this way.

I was in the council offices in Kilmarnock and I happened to notice the poster in the window. I just went up and took a note of the number. (Community Care Grant)

2.12 Crisis Grant applicants were more likely to have heard of the scheme through Job Centre Plus. Over half the respondents who had applied for a Crisis Grant had initially approached the Job Centre and been sign-posted to the SWF from there. The signposting worked well and no-one had difficulties getting to the SWF.

I phoned up [Job Centre Plus] for a Crisis Loan, I was given the number for the council Crisis Grant and it was all explained to me there and then and it was perfectly fine. It was brilliant. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

The first time I applied, I didn't actually know what it was. Somebody just said, phone this number and they'll give you money to get by on just now. So I did, and they did it. I didn't really know what it actually was until I'd spoken to the Job Centre about it. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

2.13 About one in seven applicants said they had been told about the scheme from a family member or through word-of-mouth from someone else. In a couple of cases, their family member worked for the local authority or had specific knowledge while in other cases a friend or family member had applied.

Mostly from my family members. They themselves have not personally applied, but they tried to give me the best advice of how to go through with it. (Crisis Grant)

I had a rough idea about it because my cousin had explained it to me. (Crisis Grant)

2.14 For those applying for Crisis Grants, Job Centre Plus was the main source of initial information and awareness about the SWF. Over half of respondents in need of crisis assistance first approached them.

I tried applying for a Crisis Loan through the Job Centre and they told me the council do it now. (Crisis Grant)

It was when I was claiming benefits. The Job Centre told me that the Budgeting Loans would be stopping after a while and it was going to be something through, like, my local council or the government that could help me with things. (Crisis Grant)

Online information

2.15 Some potential applicants might look to the internet for information and advice in the first instance, particularly if they are not in touch with services. Of course, applicants may not know to search online for 'Scottish Welfare Fund'. The search term 'I have no money Scotland' generates links to the Citizens Advice Bureau and Money Advice Scotland but not to the SWF. Trying the search term 'I have no money <local authority>' for a sample of local authorities generated a link to a local authority money advice page, which then links to the SWF pages.

2.16 A number of third sector support organisations highlighted the need for paper-based leaflets and other materials as well as on-line materials since many clients, particularly older people and people with relatively chaotic lifestyles, do not have internet access.

2.17 In fact, only one or two applicants interviewed had sourced information online. One applicant had investigated the scheme further after being sign-posted there by someone:

It was a friend that had told me about it. I went on-line and I saw it there. (Crisis Grant)

Information needs from the applicant perspective

2.18 There was not much demand for more information from applicants, who largely felt able to access the SWF based on the information and advice they already had, from Job Centre Plus, third sector organisations or their support workers. However, a few respondents highlighted the need for more publicity when asked for recommendations:

To have had more information about it. To know that it was there. I didn't know it was there unless I had got this person saying to me it was there, I would never have known. (Community Care Grant)

A poster at the Job Centre would be helpful. (Crisis Grant)

2.19 There was also a demand for more/better information about what type of items are awarded/what people might expect to receive.

It would be easier, especially when you made the application for Community Care Grants, if it did say on the application that it would be items awarded (...) It would've been easier if I'd know that at the time because I'd, obviously, started to try and collect some pieces of furniture. (Crisis Grant + Community Care Grant)

Applicants' understanding of the scheme

2.20 A number of third sector front-line advisors felt that Community Care Grant was very similar to the previous scheme, and so felt clients did not find it difficult to understand. However, there was a view that Crisis Grants differed more significantly to the previous scheme, and so required greater explanation.

2.21 Another front-line advisor felt that applicants did not necessarily need to understand the difference between the different schemes as they were confident that the SWF staff would be flexible enough to cover both Crisis Grant or Community Care Grant as appropriate.

2.22 One respondent in a policy role had the view that the system was not easy to use for applicants without an advocate. While this perception did not appear to be supported in the applicant interviews - in our sample only the minority seemed to have issues with navigating the SWF - it is possible that many of those who do not have an advocate do not apply at all, implying that the picture that emerged from our interviews in relation to the ease of using the system is incomplete.

2.23 The level of understanding of the scheme was mixed among applicants themselves. Generally speaking, Crisis Grant applicants tended to have more experience of Crisis Loans and were more comfortable with the application process because of this. People who had longer-term experience of the benefits system tended to be more knowledgeable/comfortable.

I had known for years. I've applied for a few in my time. I'm one of them people that is not very good at looking after their money and budgeting well. I end up getting myself in bother sometimes. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

2.24 By comparison, those newer to the benefits system were less confident and knowledgeable.

After I'd spoken to the Job Centre the second time that I claimed, I understood it better. The first time I wasn't actually sure what it was. (...) I'd never claimed benefits or phoned for anything like that before, so I had no idea. (Crisis Grant)

Then I put in for the Community Care Grant. I get all confused because it's all new to me. (Community Care Grant)

2.25 While most of those who had prior experience of the Social Fund migrated onto the new scheme happily enough, several respondents were confused about the transition, in the case of both Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants.

The first time it was very confusing but I was able to get through to it okay. Then they changed it, I believe, yes, I think they changed the Crisis in April, right? (...) It got a lot more confusing during that…(...) It wasn't very clear. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications, pre and post SWF)

2.26 One respondent was dissatisfied and confused because despite having successful Crisis Loan applications in the past, they had not received a Crisis Grant award. The 'first time' referred to in the quote below was the Social Fund and the second and third were SWF.

Well, the first time, I'd say it was good; it was very good. However the second and third time it was very dissatisfying. It was very confusing. I don't think they offer enough help to people that was in my situation at the time, or to anyone else really. (Crisis Grant, applications pre and post SWF)

2.27 A few people who had prior experience of Crisis Loans were also clearly confused about the SWF, thinking that it was still the Crisis Loan or that they needed to pay the money back.

[Discussing reviews] At the end of the day it's a bit pointless challenging it because you still owe them the money back, no matter what. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

They explained it to me, how I didn't get it. It was because I had a previous one before and there was too much I had to pay it back so they just declined me for it. I understand it anyway… (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

2.28 While applicants interviewed for the study seemed to understand that SWF staff make judgements regarding which applicants are in higher need than others (and which needs of a given applicant are essential / non-essential), they did not seem to be aware that SWF Guidance allows staff to apply discretion by deviating from the standard criteria in exceptional circumstances.

Local authorities should raise the profile of the SWF through information materials provided to their own departments, third sector agencies, Job Centre Plus and other services that members of the public might use, such as libraries and GP surgeries.

Local marketing might be needed to target those not in contact with these organisations, as on-line information use is not common at the moment.

An evolving process

2.29 There was also a recognition that every new set of arrangements takes a while to 'bed in' and that what is being experienced at the moment is similar to what happened when the Social Fund emerged from the ashes of Supplementary Benefit. Front-line respondents noted that it would take time for applicants to become knowledgeable and comfortable with the new scheme.

2.30 As confirmed independently by applicant interviews, a few third sector respondents felt that 'word-of-mouth' is an important source of information for potential applicants. It was felt that applications had and would 'snow-ball' as successful applicants shared their experiences with family and friends. This might be more common in urban rather than rural areas, where poorer households may be more geographically dispersed.

2.31 Indeed, positive experiences of the scheme had already generated recommendations from applicants to their family, friends and neighbours, suggesting that word-of-mouth information will continue to have a role. This was more common among Crisis Grant applicants. About one in ten Crisis Grant recipients had told someone else about the scheme.

If they were in need and they hadn't been in touch three times before, I definitely would put them onto it. Aye, I actually helped my cousin out because he never knew anything about it. (Crisis Grant)

I've given the number to other people. (Crisis Grant)

Awareness and understanding among third sector staff

2.32 Awareness was felt to be better among staff and volunteers in the third sector than among client groups but this was very variable. The most confident third sector respondents were those in specialist organisations offering welfare benefits information, advice and advocacy. However, even in these organisations staff faced considerable challenges in keeping abreast of all the current developments that are affecting their clients - conditionality and sanctions, the re-assessment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) applicants, Personal Independence Payments (PiP), preparing for Universal Credit as well as the SWF.

2.33 A number of third sector respondents were concerned with the ability of the sector to cope with the various pressures created by the different strands of welfare reform. A few respondents were perplexed to hear that their organisation had been named in DWP letters to clients informing them of the need to approach and use the organisation for help in evidencing their job-seeking activities. This has meant an increased workload due to sign-posting relating to conditionality, which then often converted into more complex cases if sanctions were applied and eventually helping their clients appeal sanction and access food and crisis funds.

2.34 The timing of the implementation of the interim arrangements, among this intense period of welfare reform activity, had meant that many organisations have not yet 'grasped the nettle' of the SWF. This meant that although some third sector respondents blamed their lack of awareness on a lack of marketing activity, others admitted that they 'just don't have the time' to research the SWF properly and understand the SWF in the way that they should.

2.35 Advisors' understanding of the system was generally good, although some seemed not to understand the rules on qualifying benefits. It was one organisation's view that a lot of people phoning SWF through an advisor just needed a short benefit advance from DWP but were not in crisis. A number of front-line staff felt that there needed to be greater clarity about when the approach should be to DWP and when they should apply for SWF. There were a number of cases from various organisations where clients without money were being passed back and forward between the two organisations.

The Guidance underlying the permanent arrangements would benefit from more clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the DWP and the SWF.

2.36 Another organisation was concerned that their advisors seemed to think that you had to be in receipt of benefits to be eligible, so have been essentially misinforming the clients. There was also still quite a lot of confusion among advisers regarding the interaction of various benefits and SWF and welfare reform in general. Again, this is related to SWF's introduction happening at the same time as other major changes in the benefit system.

2.37 Some non-welfare specialist advisors admitted to not having read the Guidance or to not being confident about the content of the Guidance. A few were not aware of critical elements of the changes, such as the change from Crisis Loans to Crisis Grants. There also seemed to be some confusion between Crisis Loans (which some people thought still existed) and Budgeting Loans. Sometimes it appeared to be a 'slip of the tongue' while in other cases there was a clear lack of understanding about the role of the SWF and that of the DWP (particularly when to approach which).

2.38 The revised Guidance (version 2, October 2013) was felt to be useful and clear by the most experienced welfare benefits advisors. However, those with a more partial understanding of the complexities of welfare rights said they would welcome a 'Layman's Guide' to the SWF to assist in staff training.

The Scottish Government might consider producing a 'Layman's Guide' to the SWF to assist in staff training. This could be a short reference tool or an on-line resource.

2.39 A number of front-line staff highlighted the need for training, suggesting that they were not aware of the training that had been provided in the past. This might also suggest a lack of training in some areas. Others recognised the quality of the training on offer but had not been able to use it:

If I were better trained in SWF, I would train volunteers and be more proactive but it all comes back to [lack of] time. (front-line member of staff)

2.40 Some larger organisations have done a lot more internal awareness raising, with training on offer that far exceeded that received in the rest of the third sector.

2.41 A few third sector respondents suggested using anonymous 'case studies' of successful applications to show potential applicants who had benefited from the scheme and how. This would also have the benefit of providing examples to staff and volunteers of the types of application that are successful.

Anonymised case studies could be produced from the applicant interviews to provide examples of who has accessed the scheme and how it has helped them.

Third sector perspectives on lack of awareness among other agencies

2.42 There were examples of instances where Job Centre Plus had been telling working age people that the Social Fund did not exist any longer but were not telling them that it was replaced by SWF. This might have been due to a lack of awareness among Job Centre Plus staff at the inception stage and may have improved as a result of communication between the Scottish Government and the DWP.

2.43 Third sector respondents also gave examples of cases where a client's Community Care Team or other support workers had not being aware of SWF. It was suggested that it would be helpful if carers, social workers, people conducting Community Care Assessments, hospital discharge, prisoner resettlement preparation etc. were aware of SWF. Ideally every service provider that a potential applicant might come into contact with would know about SWF.

2.44 Awareness raising sessions have taken place and are underway in local authorities and third sector organisations but reaching out to the smallest organisations with the most limited capacity will be challenging.

2.45 Training has been offered to the third sector by some local authorities and specialist advice agencies such as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 'Train the Trainer' sessions. CPAG were also about to embark on further awareness raising training for front-line staff in local authority areas with a lower than average take-up of SWF.

Pro-actively marketing training - the message on training availability does not seem to have filtered fully through to service providers.

2.46 Those who had attended training themselves were very complimentary about it, but they were in the minority. One respondent suggested producing a training DVD that staff and volunteers could access in sections, when time was available. That respondent also felt that a virtual 'community of practice' would be useful for smaller organisations to post and share experiences.

2.47 Advice and support to the third sector is offered through the CPAG advice line but was only mentioned a couple of times, suggesting to the research team that awareness of these support organisations could also be raised.

Consider developing some on-line training resources and support, and linking/sign-posting to the existing advice available.


2.48 Overall, the applicants interviewed had been able to find out what they needed to access SWF without too much difficulty. There was also some evidence that applicants were encouraging family and friends to apply. Community Care Grant applicants' awareness of SWF relied on their existing networks - their support worker, their social landlord, another third sector organisation or their local authority.

2.49 For Crisis Grant applicants, signposting to the SWF came from the DWP in the majority of cases, though the third sector was also important. There were some examples of applicants being encouraged to go back to the DWP rather than apply to SWF, which is an area where improvements could be made.

2.50 Third sector respondents suggested that some support workers within local authorities, the NHS and the prison service were not aware of the SWF and that this hindered access among clients.

2.51 Applicants did not commonly refer to local advertising and had not typically used online information as a way of finding out about the SWF. A number of the third sector respondents felt that there was scope to improve marketing to ensure that there was not a knowledge gap among members of the public in need who were less involved with the third sector or public sector providers.

2.52 Although the majority of third sector organisations said that they understood the scheme, there was an appetite for on-line or DVD-based training that could fit alongside the constrained workloads that often prevented them from accessing training.


Email: Franca MacLeod

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