Scottish Welfare Fund: statutory guidance May 2019
The Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) aims to provide a safety net to people on low incomes through Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants.
7. Crisis Grants
Circumstances in which a Crisis Grant may be awarded
7.1 This section gives more information on the circumstances in which a Crisis Grant may be awarded. They are not exhaustive and decision makers may use their discretion to determine the form of support that an applicant needs. Decision makers should consider the needs, characteristics and circumstances of the individual in making a decision.
7.2 A Crisis Grant can be awarded in case of crisis 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.
7.3 A person can apply for a grant to cover:
- immediate short-term living expenses needed until their next income is due because of an emergency.
- In an emergency situation where a person is stranded, costs for accommodation in a hostel. In these circumstances the cost must not be covered by other local authority obligations relating to homelessness.
- For travel costs in the case of an emergency please see paragraph 6.5
- living expenses or items where the need for them has arisen because of a disaster
7.4 Applicants will typically:
- not have enough money to meet immediate short term needs
- not have access to any other source of support, for example, via an authorised overdraft, a loan from a bank or building society or credit union or family help
7.5 Applicants should not be expected to take high cost credit such as doorstep lending or payday loans to cover living expenses.
7.6 Local authorities may query the amount applied for if it seems too much. The local authority should make a judgement on how much money or which items the applicant needs to get through the crisis. Paragraph 7.24 provides guidance on suggested rates of support for Crisis Grants. Where the applicant is applying for items, local authorities should make the award in cash or cash equivalent, unless it would be to the advantage of the applicant to have an award made in a different way.
7.7 The need must be current at the time of application, not an anticipated need or an application after the event, to repay expenses. A short term need may be for an item which will have a long term use. For example, following a disaster, a family may need a cooker and pans which they will use on an on-going basis.
7.8 Where a crisis is a result of a gap in income of an unknown duration, for example awaiting action by the DWP, an award should usually be made for two weeks of living expenses at a time. If an applicant’s circumstances have not changed and they make a further immediate application for assistance this should be treated as being a separate application for the purposes of calculating the number of times an award has been made. There may be other instances, for example Tax Credits, where a decision maker can make an award to cover a period longer in duration, for example 4 weeks, but this should be decided on a case by case basis according to circumstances. Decision makers should ensure that the award made meets the period of crisis to avoid repeat applications in sequence.
7.9 If an applicant on Universal Credit applies for living costs and it is known that their next payment date is more than two weeks away, a decision maker can make an award to cover a period longer in duration, for example, four weeks.
7.10 The Regulations require that an applicant must be aged 16 or over, on a low income and not have any access to any other appropriate source of financial support.
7.11 The applicant must be resident in the local authority’s area or about to become resident, or is homeless.
7.12 The key test for a Crisis Grant is the severity of the applicant’s situation and the likely impact on them and their family.
Income and Capital
7.13 The Regulations require local authorities to take account of tshis guidance when deciding whether an applicant is eligible for assistance by virtue of income or capital they may hold. As set out in the Regulations, a person should be on a low income to be considered eligible for assistance. It is not a requirement of the fund to be in receipt of an income related benefit to be eligible for assistance there are a number of ways to decide whether an individual is on a low income, these are outlined below.
7.14 If the applicant is applying for, in receipt of, or entitled to one of the following income related benefits, the condition can be considered as having been satisfied. It should be noted that not everyone who is entitled to apply for income based benefits does so.
- an income-based jobseeker’s allowance (payable under the Jobseekers Act 1995(34)
- Income support under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992(35)
- Income-related employment and support allowance under Part 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007(36)
- Universal credit under Part 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012(37) or
- State pension credit payable under the State Pension Credit Act 2002(38)
Low Income Indicators
7.15 If an applicant is not currently applying for, in receipt of, or entitled to one of the above income-related benefits, there are a number of other indicators a decision maker can use to help identify those on low incomes. These include:
- a roughly equivalent level of income, as compared to someone receiving one of the above income-related benefits
- an individual in receipt of (or with underlying entitlement to) other benefits, for example, disability related benefits, contributory-based benefits, retirement pension, Carer’s Allowance, tax credits, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction
- an individual with exceptional outgoings or additional living costs, e.g. additional costs relating to being disabled, looking after a disabled person or having a large number of dependents
- nature of employment, for example, number of hours typically worked, details of agreement (e.g. whether ‘zero-hours’) and whether paid the minimum wage
7.16 This should not be seen as an exhaustive list. An applicant’s circumstances must be taken into account when deciding whether they are on a low income. If there are other financial issues the local authority thinks should be taken into account, such as experiencing homelessness, having fled from domestic abuse without their belongings, being a modern apprentice, having just been released from prison, or the applicant not having access to their money for some reason (for example, relating to domestic abuse), the local authority may make the judgement that an applicant on a seemingly higher income should still be considered for a grant.
7.17 The decision maker must be satisfied that the condition of being on a low income is met before proceeding with the application.
7.18 The applicant is assessed as an individual. Information about a partner and other members of family can, however, be collected and taken into account where relevant, for example, in relation to income or health.
If the applicant has savings or capital
7.19 A Crisis Grant should take in to account any other resources the applicant can access to tide them over the crisis. This includes any form of capital or financial support, including any benefit income for the applicant, their partner or dependents.
7.20 If an applicant is without a regular income but has capital assets of over £16,000, they will be expected to raise money against those assets. If they are unable to release or raise money on the assets immediately, but are able to demonstrate that they are taking steps to do so, a Crisis Grant may be appropriate in the interim.
Exclusions for Crisis Grants
7.21 The Regulations specify that the number of awards that any person can receive should normally be limited to three in any rolling 12 month period across all local authorities i.e. if an applicant has received a Crisis Grant from a local authority and subsequently moves to another, they are only eligible for a further two grants from the new local authority. The start date of a rolling 12 month period is measured from the date of decision.
7.22 If an applicant has received three awards in a 12 month rolling period, any subsequent applications need not be considered beyond stage one of the decision making process, except to ascertain whether an exception should be made to the three awards in a 12 month period restriction. Where a person is part of a couple, each partner can receive three grants in a 12 month rolling period.
7.23 Welfare fund grants are intended to meet occasional or short term needs and cannot provide an alternative source of regular income. The Regulations do allow local authorities to use their discretion to allow more than three awards in exceptional circumstances. Consideration should be given if the reason for one of the applications made in the 12 month period is that a benefit that was expected to be paid at the end of initial award has not, and, if at the time of the initial award, a decision to award for a longer period would have been made if a later benefit date had been known, i.e. where there have been two crisis grants awarded in sequence as a result of the same crisis, because there wasn’t a full understanding of when income would become available at the time of the first decision. This should be treated as one period of crisis. Local Authorities may choose to re-open the original claim rather than make a second award. Where repeated applications are received for the same reasons, the decision maker should consider whether these circumstances are now normal for the applicant and whether they are common for those on a low income or exceptional compared to the previous applications. Where additional circumstances have been given applicants would normally be able to evidence no fault on their part. In these cases, local authorities will wish to seek additional evidence and/or support the applicant to identify and address any underlying problems which are resulting in repeated crisis.
Rates for crisis grant awards for living expenses
7.24 The amount that a person is awarded for living expenses should normally be calculated as set out below. However, these rates are indicative. Local authorities should take the circumstances of the applicant into account when assessing an application to ensure that the award meets the applicant’s needs. This could result in an award being made at a rate which is more or less than the Income Support rate providing the award will meet the applicant’s needs until the next income that is sufficient to cover living expenses is received. Local authorities should explore any additional circumstances that should be taken into account when calculating the award. Examples may include special dietary requirements and debts on pre-payment meters. Decision makers should ensure that the award made meets the period of crisis to avoid repeat applications in sequence.
- For applicants who are non-householders(for example those who are generally not responsible for rent, mortgage or primary utility bills) – 30% of the Income Support personal allowance rate plus the full rate of the Income Support allowance rate for each dependent child on a pro rata basis for the number of days until their next benefit payment is due.
- For applicants who are liable for rent/mortgages/primary household bills etc. or applicants who are without accommodation e.g. sofa surfing or sleeping rough - 60% per cent of the Income Support personal allowance rate plus the full rate of the Income Support allowance rate for each dependent child on a pro rata basis for the number of days until their next benefit payment is due.
7.25 A dependent child is defined as being 16 or under, or aged 17-19 and still in full time education, or included on their parent’s benefit claim. They need not be living with the applicant all of the time. A child who has shared care arrangements may be considered to be dependent. Where the child is dependent on the applicant, they would usually be in receipt of child benefit for him or her but there may be situations where this is not the case. For example, child benefit may not be in payment if the applicant is a kinship carer or in cases of shared care where the other parent collects the benefit. A dependent child may include an unborn child, once the pregnancy has advanced to 24 weeks. The local authority may use discretion to reduce the award where there is a very large family and the award seems out of proportion with likely living costs.
What Constitutes an Emergency?
7.26 An emergency is a circumstance of pressing need which requires immediate action. The grant is to pay for expenses to get out of an emergency situation rather than costs from a past emergency which has now been resolved. How the emergency came about is not relevant, even if the applicant might be judged to have caused it or to have been able to avoid it. The same circumstances may constitute an emergency for one person and not for another because of their ability to cope with them. For example, an able bodied young person may be able to manage in a situation where an older or disabled person could not.
7.27 The following are examples of what might be considered to be an emergency and for which a grant for living expenses may be awarded:
- where an unexpected expense has resulted in all the applicants benefit or income being spent, for example, travelling to hospital to visit a sick child;
- where money has been lost or stolen and living expenses are required;
- where there is, or has been, a breakdown of relationships within the family, perhaps including domestic abuse;
- when a person has nowhere to stay and may resort to rough sleeping;
- when a person is stranded away from home without any means to get back;
- when an applicant is fleeing domestic abuse and needs immediate help;
- when the applicant is a grandparent or other relative who is in work but has taken on care of a child/children, and a transfer of the benefits in respect of the children is pending;
- when the applicant has received the outcome of a ‘fit for work’ assessment for Employment Support Allowance, is not in receipt of benefits and has appealed this decision; and
- when the applicant has a short term gap in regular income, for example, due to redundancy or a significant change in working pattern.
What Constitutes a Disaster?
7.28 Disasters are events of great or sudden misfortune. They will normally be unforeseen and result in significant damage to, destruction or loss of, possessions or property. The following are examples of what might be considered to be a disaster, and for which a grant for living expenses and household goods may be awarded:
- a serious flood or fire, causing substantial damage; and
- loss or destruction to possessions or property for example due to gas explosion or a chemical leak.
7.29 These are just examples; a grant would not be awarded in all of these cases. If a situation is not mentioned above, it does not mean that an applicant should not be helped.
What support will be given
7.30 Applications for Crisis Grants can be made for living expenses, for example, to help pay for essentials like food and heating. Where the application is for items following a disaster, example items are as per Community Care Grants at paragraph 8.39.
7.31 There should be no minimum amount for a Crisis Grant.
Target Processing Times
7.32 The Regulations require local authorities to make a decision on Crisis Grant applications immediately after the local authority has received all information allowing a decision to be made, and in any event, no later than the end of the next working day.
7.33 A working day is defined as being between 9.00am and 4:45pm. If an application is received after 4.45pm, it should be treated as being received on the next working day. A working day does not include weekends and bank/public holidays.
7.34 If a local authority is still awaiting a piece of information they consider to be relevant to the decision, a decision must be made by close of business on the day following receipt of an application. This means that a decision is made at the end of the day following receipt of the application based on an assessment of the available information
7.35 Where an application is for living expenses and processing takes more than 24 hours, the award should reflect the need at the time of application rather than at the time of payment. For example, if an applicant applies for living expenses for four days and it takes more than 24 hours to process the application, the award should be for four days rather than for three.
7.36 Processing times should be measured from the date of receiving a completed application to the date the award is made. Local authorities should consider whether it is possible and appropriate for them to offer an out of hour’s service for evenings and weekends depending on what other services are available locally.
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