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.

7 Payments

7.1 This chapter presents applicants' experiences with and views on different methods of receiving the award. Where relevant, third sector perspectives are intertwined with those of the applicants. The chapter ends with sections specifically dedicated to applicants' experiences with the delivery of goods and their views on goods they received.

7.2 Most third sector respondents stated that in their local authorities clients did not have a choice of how to receive the payment. This has been viewed as constraining and it has been suggested that local authorities should give clients at least two options for processing the payment.

7.3 Consistent with the views of third sector organisations, only a small proportion of Crisis Grant applicants in our sample were given choice of ways in which to receive the grant. The lack of choice did not seem to concern Crisis Grant applicants, however, as long as the method of payment was convenient and matched the nature of the need (e.g. SWF staff directly topping up the applicant's energy account). The vast majority reported feeling satisfied with the method of payment in their cases.

7.4 Bank transfer appeared to be the most convenient and therefore the most preferred method (it eliminates the need to go to the Post Office or local authority offices).

7.5 A few applicants provided their views on the 'fast cash voucher' method, where a code is sent to applicant's mobile phone. The applicant shows the code to the shop assistant at a PayPoint shop and receives the money. While some individuals liked this method for its convenience ("that was easy enough"), two respondents held a critical view:

Some of the shop owners are a bit wary in giving you it over… Because that text could be from anyone. So I don't actually recommend that fast cash. (Crisis Grant)

To be honest, it's quite embarrassing to go into the shop and show them your phone. (Crisis Grant)

7.6 Third sector respondents expressed mixed views on the 'fast cash voucher' method. One policy manager praised it for being an efficient method of payment. Front-line staff from another organisation found it problematic, highlighting that the applicant may not have a mobile phone or electricity to charge the phone. It has also been thought that the recipient may be stigmatised if he or she lives in a small place where PayPoint staff know everyone - a concern confirmed in one applicant interview.

7.7 One third sector organisation found it unsafe that in its locality Crisis Grant awards were only paid out via vouchers which need to be cashed at PayPoints. If was felt that thieves were aware of it and may have targeted applicants. One support worker acted as a guard by accompanying a female applicant when she collected the cash.

7.8 One Crisis Grant applicant and one Community Care Grant applicant stated that cash represents a better value than vouchers or goods as it allows the beneficiary to economise:

Don't get me wrong, cash, sometimes you can make it string out a bit more, you know what I mean, than having a voucher. (Crisis Grant)

I just did my best. I had the help of friends looking about for cheaper stuff. (…) I managed to get as much as I can. [With £860] I got my fridge, my cooker, my washing machine, my carpets, my couch, my bed. (Community Care Grant)

7.9 Similarly, some third sector respondents pointed out that vouchers cannot be spent in charity shops and therefore in comparison with cash may represent poor value for clients.

7.10 One front-line third sector respondent criticised her local authority for paying Crisis Grant by cheque. Cheques take up to five days to clear, which hinders an effective response to a crisis. In practice clients had little choice but to sell their cheques to specialist shops, losing 10% of the value on commission.

7.11 As in the case of Crisis Grants, only a small proportion of Community Care Grant applicants in our sample were given choice of ways in which to receive the grant. It appeared that some individuals were not concerned about the method of payment because they were under a pressing need:

Well, it didn't really bother me because, obviously, I was just starting from scratch again. So it was just, basically, getting the necessities for my children. (Community Care Grant, previously homeless)

7.12 While some Community Care Grant applicants said they would have been okay with either goods or cash, some others expressed a view that they (would have) preferred goods over cash as it (would have) saved them the inconvenience of sourcing the goods. As in the case of Crisis Grants applicants, this suggests that convenience is key from the clients' perspective.

That was excellent. It saved me having any bother of trying to get the mattress. (Community Care Grant)

I'm actually quite happy with the goods, to be totally honest with you. (...) As a starter pack, when you're moving into an empty property, it's an ideal starter pack to that sense. So, yes, the goods were, aye, a lot more advantageous, I would say. (Community Care Grant, previously homeless)

7.13 One third sector policy officer criticised her local authority for not taking accessibility into account when processing payments. In this case awards were only paid via a bank transfer or cash at local authority offices. The organisation supported a severely disabled client who did not have a bank account and had to pick up cash in person from local authority offices.

7.14 Likewise, a few applicants had no choice but to collect the grant from local authority offices. Some accounts suggested this was difficult for applicants with health or mobility impairments:

I've walked nearly six miles, I walked there and back to get the money. I saved myself £3.00 [return bus fare]. I've got sore feet and my feet are killing me now. (Crisis Grant)

7.15 Similarly, three Community Care Grant applicants preferred goods over cash due to their mobility problem:

They didn't send the cash, which was not a problem. They did it through a catalogue, which was ideal because I was having problems getting out and walking about anyway. (Community Care Grant)

I'd be quite happy with that [receiving goods]. It would've saved me going out to [name of furniture scheme] and picking things. Yes, for somebody in my position where mobility is a problem, yes, it would've been much better just to have been sent the items. (Community Care Grant)

7.16 Unlike applicants with mobility impairment, applicants with mental health impairment who were awarded goods expressed more mixed views. While some would have preferred a different way of receiving the award, others liked the convenience of grants in kind.

7.17 Some applicants did not like receiving the award in kind as it removed the element of choice:

But I found that, for me personally, it didn't suit me and where I was in that place. And the fact that I didn't have any say on what it was I get, what the goods were specifically. Just the kind of overall… I need this, what they could get me, "Here you are, there you go." Like it or lump it. (Community Care Grant)

I think if I had cash I would have got a different bed, aye. (Community Care Grant)

7.18 Similarly, a number of third sector respondents felt that awards in kind have a disadvantage as they take away the choice. Linked to this, some front-line and policy respondents felt that awards in kind and vouchers are demeaning.

7.19 One third sector organisation criticised its local authority for allowing clients to spend vouchers in only one furniture scheme while the town has at least a few other furniture schemes. This was seen as a choice-limiting arrangement.

7.20 However, several policy and front-line respondents recognised that making an award in kind has a benefit of bulk purchasing and cutting admin costs and therefore making the Fund go a longer way. It has also been judged more suitable for people with chaotic lifestyles and/or history of substance abuse.

7.21 One third sector organisation also felt that offering awards in kind has a benefit of deterring applicants intending to abuse the system. An observation was made by a front-line respondent that in the past there used to be 'a lot' of Community Care Grant applications for beds just before Christmas, with cash awards apparently being spent on something else.

The delivery of goods

7.22 Most applicants who received awards in kind were satisfied with the delivery process. Six Community Care Grant applicants reported problems with the delivery.

7.23 One applicant had not received the goods and so had to chase it up with the SWF team. When the goods arrived, the bed was missing. She needed the bed quickly and decided to buy it with the money borrowed off her family.

7.24 Another applicant who lives on the fourth floor had to help the delivery man to carry the goods upstairs - including a cooker, a washing machine and a fridge.

7.25 One applicant was awarded a fridge freezer but received a fridge. Another one was awarded a bed but received a bed frame. He borrowed the money to buy the mattress.

7.26 Two applicants complained about the incompetence of contractors who came to fit the goods. However, as both were grateful for the award they did not want to file a complaint with the SWF team.

Applicants' views about the condition and the 'look' of goods

7.27 Applicants clearly appreciated it when the items they received were in a brand-new condition, and most were satisfied with the 'look' of the items. However, a few stated that they would have chosen a different 'look' or better quality had the choice been theirs.

Fridge and freezer, they're all new so these things are fabulous. (Community Care Grant)

They [goods] were brand new, so I can't really moan. But I would never have picked that cooker in a million years. (...) I'd rather had some say in it. (Community Care Grant)

If they had given me the money I would have got a better quality carpet because they were quite thin. (Community Care Grant)

7.28 A few applicants highlighted issues around the vulnerability of second-hand items to mechanical failures:

The washing machine didn't work after a week, so they came and took it away and brought me a replacement. And then a month later they took the replacement away and brought me a new one. (Community Care Grant)

7.29 A number of third sector respondents were of an opinion that "goods are OK if they are right" (front-line respondent). Some felt that only new goods should be awarded as they are less prone to fail and are under warranty: clients may not be able to afford repairs if second-hand items break down. New items are also more energy efficient which translates into lower energy bills.

Other views

7.30 One applicant complained that the amount of money she was given to spend in a particular second-hand furniture shop was not enough to purchase the items she was awarded:

When she [SWF staff] phoned me she said to me, "Right, you're entitled to a cooker, washing machine and fridge/freezer" I said, "Right, okay." "So how much are those things?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I haven't got a clue how much these things are." So what she did, "Have you got an Argos? Have a look in an Argos". So I opened up the Argos, had a look in the Argos. Cheapest washing machine and I told her the price, £200. But at that shop they don't have the cheapest possible washing machine you can find. "Well, listen the cheapest washing machine we have is like £250. They've only allowed you £200 so you have to add £50 to it". And that happened with all three things.(…) they [SWF staff] possibly could do with being a wee bit more updated on how much. If the council are giving me money to spend in this place, they need to know how much the stuff is. Not just asking me how much is it? (Community Care Grant)

Waiting times for the payment to go through

7.31 In the case of cash payments (including 'fast cash vouchers'), all but one applicants received their cash awards on the same day as the decision. In the case of the award in kind, the typical time to receive the goods was one to two weeks from the decision.


7.32 The majority of applicants were satisfied with the method in which they received the grant.

7.33 The interviews revealed that only a small proportion of applicants were given choice of ways in which to receive the grant. While third sector organisations were concerned about applicants not being given choice, the majority of interviewed applicants were not concerned by the lack of choice as long as the method of payment was convenient to them and matched the nature of the need.

7.34 Several respondents representing third sector support organisations appreciated the advantages of giving awards in kind (such as financial efficiencies resulting from bulk purchasing).

7.35 Most applicants were satisfied with the condition and 'look' of goods they received, but a few stated that they would have chosen a different 'look' or better quality had the choice been theirs. Consistent with this, third sector respondents believed that awards in kind are appropriate providing that goods are in a good condition, preferably new.


Email: Franca MacLeod

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