Scottish Welfare Fund: statutory guidance – March 2021
An update to the Scottish Welfare Fund statutory guidance, previously published in May 2019, to include a section on the Self-isolation Support Grant and to correct any inaccuracies or anachronisms which have occurred since the previous publication.
2. Purpose Of The Scottish Welfare Fund
2.1 A local authority may only use its SWF to provide occasional assistance (financial or otherwise) to individuals, specifically by way of a Crisis Grant or a Community Care Grant.Crisis Grants are provided where an individual is facing a disaster or emergency situation, and where there is an immediate threat to the health or safety of that individual or their family.
2.2 Community Care Grants are provided where a qualifying individual needs help to establish or maintain a settled home. A Community Care Grant may also be provided to support individuals and families facing exceptional pressure
2.3 Grants should be made available to individuals who do not have alternative means of paying for what they need. The Act specifies that grants do not need to be paid back, and are intended to meet one-off needs rather than
2.4 A Crisis Grant can be awarded to meet expenses that have arisen as a result of an emergency or disaster where financial assistance is required in order to avoid serious damage or serious risk to the health or safety of the applicant or their family. In the case of an emergency, only living expenses should be awarded, and in the case of a disaster, both living expenses and household goods may be awarded. For travel costs in case of emergency see paragraph 6.5
Community Care Grants
2.5 A Community Care Grant can be awarded to qualifying individuals. A qualifying individual is defined as those who otherwise, without assistance, may be:
- in prison, hospital, a residential care establishment or other institution; or
- homeless or otherwise living an unsettled way of life.
2.6 A Community Care Grant can be provided to qualifying individuals for the following reasons:
- to enable qualifying individuals who are leaving care or imprisonment to establish or maintain a settled home, where without a grant there is a risk that the individual will not be able to do so
- to enable qualifying individuals to establish or maintain a settled home after being homeless, or otherwise living an unsettled way of life
- to enable qualifying individuals to maintain a settled home, where without a grant there is a risk of the individual needing to go into a care institution
- to enable qualifying individuals to maintain a settled home in a situation where that individual, or another individual in the same household, is facing exceptional pressure
- to assist a person to care for a qualifying individual who has been released from prison or a young offenders' institution on temporary release
Users of the Scottish Welfare Fund
2.7 From data collected about the SWF we know the following groups apply for assistance:
- people experiencing mental or physical health problems
- people with chronic and terminal illnesses
- people looking after children, including lone parents and kinship carers
- people experiencing eviction or re-possession
- homeless people
- people experiencing addiction problems
- older people
- people with a conviction or history of offending
- families caring for a person on temporary release from prison
- people experiencing family breakdown
- people fleeing domestic abuse
- pregnant women, women who have recently given birth or people adopting a child
- unemployed people
- care leavers, including young people
2.8 Feedback from the Social Security Experience Panel suggests that potential crisis grants applicants do not always hear about the SWF when they need it. SWF teams should ensure that people in need know that their local authority can help them by making sure that other services which have contact with people in crisis have up to date information about the SWF and materials such as posters or leaflets to raise awareness of the Fund, as well as displaying these in LA premises. Local Authorities should have clear instructions on how to apply for a grant on their websites.
A Holistic Approach
2.9 A holistic approach puts the person at the centre and considers all their needs. In the context of the SWF, this might include housing, health issues or money management. But it is important to note that Crisis and Community Care Grants should not duplicate other provisions. In particular, grants should not be substituted for support provided under established community care arrangements. Local authorities will need to consider how the grants fit with their existing services where these offer help to similar client groups. In particular they will need to consider social work services, including crisis payments made under section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, support for young people leaving care; and throughcare and aftercare for people with a conviction, to ensure that the support provided is complementary. They will also need to ensure consistency with tackling homelessness, housing and housing adaptation services, and any support provided by registered social landlords.
2.10 It is crucial, therefore, that local authorities should ensure that they build and maintain relationships with a range of local partners, including NHS, third sector, advice agencies and money advice agencies, including credit unions. This will ensure where appropriate, people accessing the SWF can be signposted to other services which could address their wider needs. Active referrals have been shown to be more effective than signposting services. If possible, active referrals should be made to other services, wherever appropriate local networks or contacts exist and the applicant gives permission. This approach may help reduce future demand for the SWF and help local authorities manage their fund more effectively. More detail is in paragraphs 2.12 and 2.13.
Sharing Best Practice
2.11 Sharing best practice is a good way to improve performance, avoid reinventing the wheel, save costs and ensure consistency across Scotland. Local authorities must proactively share best practice, in particular, how to achieve best value when procuring goods for SWF awards and also how best to engage with people accessing the fund to make service improvements. Signposting applicants to wider support services or actively referring, where possible, is also a critical area of best practice for local authorities. The SWF Practitioners Forum and other appropriate Forums must be used to discuss and share best practice to create and encourage a learning environment. Improvements made to the delivery of the SWF must also be shared with the Scottish Government and published on the local government knowledge hub (https://khub.net/)
Local Authority Responsibility as Corporate Parents
2.12 Local authorities must take account of their Corporate Parenting responsibilities in the delivery of their Welfare Funds, to uphold the rights and secure the wellbeing of looked after children and care leavers. Statutory guidance, issued under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, sets out the parameters in which Corporate Parents should develop their approach, informed by the needs, views and experiences of looked after children and care leavers. In the context of the SWF, this may mean:
- being aware of issues which could affect the wellbeing of care experienced young people (CEYP)
- being aware of the likelihood of how/ when CEYP might apply to the SWF
- promoting the interests of CEYP
- providing CEYP with opportunities
- participating in activities designed to promote the wellbeing of CEYP
- taking action to help CEYP access opportunities and make best use of the services and support it provides
2.13 Local authorities should make connections with other agencies and services, on behalf of applicants helping to build capacity and resilience in communities. Citizens Advice Bureaux offer a holistic service which may be particularly useful in this regard. By working in partnership with other local agencies, local authorities will be able to facilitate contact, in some cases for the first time. This wider support may help to prevent repeated applications to the SWF.
2.14 In this regard, applicants may benefit from the following services:
- support to maximise income (including benefits advice and support in applying for benefits). Claiming the benefits that people are entitled to will help maximise incomes and can reduce poverty levels. It may also help reduce pressure on the Scottish Welfare Fund. Many people across Scotland may not be claiming the support they are entitled to receive. A change in people's lives, such as having a child, a family bereavement or becoming a carer for a family member, can mean they are now entitled to support. Making sure that everyone receives the financial help they are entitled to is also key to ensuring everyone is treated with dignity and respect. The Scottish Government has launched The Money Talk Team, delivered by the Citizens Advice Network. The Money Talk Team will support an individual/family to maximise their income by ensuring they are not paying more for essential goods and service than they need to and that they are getting all the benefits, grants and exemptions (council tax, energy) they are entitled to. They can also access impartial debt and money advice. More information is available at: https://moneytalkteam.org.uk/
- support for housing and tenancy issues including, but not limited to, housing support services for tenancy sustainment, advice on landlord/tenant disputes and home ownership issues
- signposting to other services and other information (for example information about fuel efficiency, loft insulation, safer homes and the value of home contents insurance)
- financial advice (including budgeting, financial education, advice on requirements to open a bank account for receipt of benefit payments, debt advice and ways of saving money). It is important that responsible money management is encouraged from an early stage and people accessing the SWF take advantage of the free financial help and information that is available locally. Although it may not be an immediate priority for people in crisis situations, taking time to learn how to budget, get advice on paying off debts and how to save for the future, as well as accessing low interest credit, for example via credit unions will have longer-term benefits
- Support for a person fleeing domestic abuse. SWF advisors should be able to recognise and respond appropriately to domestic abuse, have developed good relationships and a referrals process to specialist domestic abuse services making links to Scottish Women's Aid or other local provision.
- mediation and advocacy support (including citizens advice and welfare rights)
- resilience support (including befriending, building local networks, education training and employability support)
- healthcare support, including mental health and addiction services and advice on registering with GPs
2.15 The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also plays a key role for local communities, providing working age benefits, including advance payments for Universal Credit (UC), as well as the Flexible Support Fund for applicants to help them get a job e.g. interview expenses.
2.16 Social Security Scotland is also now in operation and will administer the Social Security benefits devolved to Scotland under the Scotland Act 2016. The following are in the first wave of benefits to have been implemented and may provide valuable support for people on low incomes:
- Best Start Grant: Pregnancy and Baby Payment
- Best Start Grant: Early Learning Payment
- Best Start Grant: School Age Payment
- Best Start Foods
- Carer's Allowance Supplement
- Funeral Support Payment
- Young Carers Grant
- Job Start Payment
- Child Winter Heating Assistance
- Scottish Child Payment
2.17 The second wave of benefits to be delivered include the following:
- Child Disability Payment
- Adult Disability Payment
- Disability Assistance for Older People
- Winter Heating Assistance and Cold Spell Heating Assistance
- Scottish Carers Allowance
- Employment Injury Assistance
- Scottish Child Payment (for children over 6)
2.18 SWF Teams will want to engage with the Social Security Scotland Local Delivery Lead for their area in order to discuss opportunities to make local connections. More information can be found at https://www.socialsecurity.gov.scot/
2.19 More generally, local authorities should take steps to engage with organisations dealing with vulnerable or under-represented groups in their area, to raise awareness of the fund. Local authorities should also ensure that relevant organisations in their area are aware of their approach and authority website.
Links to DWP benefits and other payments
2.20 The DWP will continue to deliver a range of other support, depending on the circumstances of the individual, for example, Hardship Payments, Budgeting Loans, and Bereavement Support Payment. Being in receipt of a Community Care Grant or Crisis Grant has no impact on eligibility for any other benefit.
2.21 Local authorities will need to maintain a good working relationship with the DWP in order to avoid confusion, repeated cross referrals and poor service to applicants. Welfare Fund teams should maintain regular contact with their DWP single point of contact, highlighting issues as they arise. Local authorities may also wish to provide publicity materials to local Job Centres, as well as the third sector, to ensure applicants are aware of who to contact.
2.22 Community Care Grants and Crisis Grants are disregarded for calculation of Council Tax Reduction and Legal Aid, and will be treated as not liable to income tax.
Where an applicant is seeking to make an application for a Crisis Grant and has an outstanding benefit claim
2.23 Local Authorities and local DWP offices should seek to make sure that entitlement to a DWP payment is realised before recommending an application for a Crisis Grant for living expenses, where this arises as a result of non-payment of benefits.
2.24 Applicants may be eligible for a UC advance if they are awaiting their first payment and are in urgent financial need. The amount of money awarded can go up to 100% of an estimated UC award . As of April 2021, an applicant will be required to pay back the advance within 24 months of receipt. Decision makers should be aware of the circumstances under which advanced payments of a benefit may or may not be awarded, and around potential delays in accessing such support. They should apply a flexible approach to ensure that applicants are not left in crisis when awaiting such support; or when they may not be able to access an advance. This may include awarding a payment to cover the period between applying for an advance of benefit and receiving funds.
2.25 Examples of situations that decision makers should take into account when deciding whether to require an applicant to apply for a benefit advance or hardship payment before awarding a crisis grant are:
- UC advances are not available until identity is verified, and there can be lengthy delays in verification. Some groups are particularly vulnerable to such delays – people leaving prison for example.
- Not everyone who applies for an advance will qualify for one. This can be the case for people who are having certain other deductions made from their benefit, or who are subject to a high level sanction.
- People who are eligible for an advance payment may be apprehensive about applying as it will leave them with debt and reduce the value of future benefit payments for up to 24 months. This could lead to longer term financial hardship.
2.26 Where the local authority considers the need is severe, it should make an exception and make a payment while an application to the DWP is still in progress. Decision makers should ensure that the award made meets the applicant's needs.
2.27 Applicants are not required to have made an application for a Budgeting Loan before applying for a SWF grant. Budgeting Loans are not provided to cover living costs.
Sanctions and Disallowances
2.28 Applicants subject to a suspension, disallowance or sanction by DWP can apply for Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants in the same way as any other applicant.
2.29 Local authorities should consider eligibility and prioritisation in the normal way, as set out in the decision making process at Section 5. The reason for the sanction, or the way it has been applied, should not be taken in to consideration in assessing the application.
2.30 The DWP target time for making a decision on a suspension is 48 hours therefore any award for a suspension should not extend beyond that timescale in the first instance. If an applicant is subsequently sanctioned or disallowed and they make a further immediate application for assistance, this should be treated as being one application for the purposes of calculating the number of times an award has been made.
2.31 The SWF is a budget limited scheme. Grants are intended to meet occasional or short term needs and not to provide an alternative source of regular income. It is important to address any underlying issues as early as possible, by taking a holistic approach and referring to relevant sources of help as appropriate as detailed in paragraphs 2.12 and 2.13. For those subject to DWP sanctions or disallowances, applicants should be encouraged to engage with the DWP to find a sustainable longer term solution, for example, appealing the sanction, applying for a Hardship Payment or meeting the requirements attached to a sanction in order to resolve their financial difficulties. It should be noted however, that in some circumstances a Hardship Payment will need to be repaid, for example, if the applicant is in receipt of Universal Credit. If however, the applicant is in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance it does not need to be repaid but applicants may have to wait 15 days before they can reapply for Hardship Payments.
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