Winter Support Fund: summary of local action to tackle financial insecurity 2021-22

This report summarises the activities delivered by local authorities using flexible funding streams on financial insecurity between November 2021 – March 2022, and highlights trends and learning to enhance future policy and practice.

Activities delivered

The activities delivered using the funding have been grouped into six categories – cash-first responses, shopping card provision, money advice, direct assistance with food and fuel, wellbeing approaches and preventative measures. Views were also sought on challenges experienced by local authorities, including delivery risks and concerns in the year ahead.

Snapshot of spend

A high-level breakdown of the spend against the six categories is summarised below, with around 70% or reported spend targeted at cash-first interventions.

  • Over £14,000,000 was invested in cash-first responses, including almost £6,300,000 to the Scottish Welfare Fund, £50,000 for Discretionary Housing Payments and £7,700,000 for other cash-based assistance.
  • Around £222,000 supported the provision of shopping cards
  • Over £790,000 was allocated to deliver money advice
  • Around £3,500,000 was allocated for direct assistance with food and fuel
  • Over £2,000,000 was allocated to wellbeing,  prevention and other supports
  • Around £800,000 was carried forward to 2022-23.


All local authorities that submitted returns included an element of cash-first action in their response. Most strengthened existing cash-first interventions, and some also put in place new interventions.

Local authorities reported that cash-first was the preference of most of the people seeking support, as this provided the greatest choice around food and other essentials, including access to different retailers which helped to meet different dietary and cultural needs and preferences. Support for cash-first has been echoed by the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network.

Examples included:

  • Topping up existing locally delivered low income payments including school clothing grants and Scottish Child Payment bridging payments
  • Funding new one-off payments to households in receipt of locally delivered low income supports, such as free school meals or council tax reduction
  • One local authority extended provision of cash support in lieu of free school meals during the school holidays to low income families who fall just above the qualifying threshold
  • Additional funding to Scottish Welfare Fund to supplement increased demand
  • Increasing the value of crisis grants by 20% for remainder of 2021/22
  • Bolstering other local discretionary funds in place and establishing new discretionary funding models. This included:
    • Integrated approaches to emergency financial assistance and money advice, such as the Flexible Food Fund in Argyll & Bute
    • Targeted cash support for groups who may not be accessing other supports, such as home-schooled young people and older adults
    • Targeted cash support for those in social rented sector
    • Targeted cash support to marginalised groups through trusted partners, including Gypsy Travellers and those who live on outer isles
  • Help to write off debt for rent or household bills
  • Paypoint vouchers that can be redeemed as cash were also used if a person did not have a bank account

Shopping card provision 

Shopping cards were issued by some local authorities, however they tended to be used where cash-first approaches could not be taken such as in cases where debt or coercive control may prevent a cash payment from reaching the intended recipient. They were also used to support people quickly where they may not otherwise be in receipt of existing local supports or may not have a bank account.

  • The flexibility of the funding enabled local authorities to source shopping cards which reflected the shops available within their area
  • Cards were distributed in a range of settings, including through money advisors and community groups
  • One local authority had previously developed a flexible shopping card for use across the local area, this had the secondary objective of supporting the local economy. Another is piloting an online version with community groups.
  • Some areas considered use of Scotland Loves Local cards and agreed to further consider and promote when there is greater availability in their area.

Money advice

Money advice was often discussed with people when they contacted the local authority triage teams requesting financial assistance. Many reported that they signposted to the relevant advice provider either within the local authority or external stakeholder eg CAS. This provided them with access to a range of relevant services, including fuel advice, as well as welfare, debt and employability advice.

Funding was allocated to :

  • Increase the capacity of financial inclusion teams to respond to demand– both within councils and other local advice providers
  • Bolster provision for specific issues – one area focused on reviewing fuel debt and energy tariff suitability, another focused in disability benefit appeals
  • Partnering with other local groups and services to reach those who may not be accessing advice and integrating advice alongside other services – one area helped to recruit two financial liaison officers linked to a food bank, another area integrated advice in to wider older peoples services through the joint health improvement team
  • Developing skills and adapting services to increase access, including through a Financial Inclusion Traineeship Programme and Financial Inclusion Service Redesign programme

Direct assistance with food and fuel

Significant funding was allocated by local authorities to directly mitigate, where possible, the challenges of food and fuel insecurity by taking a few different approaches.

  • Promotion of direct assistance available, including targeted outreach to older people and other at-risk groups
  • Provision of food and household items such as energy saving slow cookers
  • Payments for household energy to supplier or via voucher
  • Funded breakfast clubs and tea time clubs, free school meals for children in temporary accommodation, top-ups to school meal allowances and expanding school meal eligibility
  • Assisting food banks and other community groups to purchase, store and redistribute food and other essentials - this included delivering services in remote areas such as through mobile pantries
  • Supporting membership of groups and services that can reduce costs, including local pantries

Wellbeing approaches

Financial hardship can significantly impact on health and wellbeing, and local partners highlighted this as a key area for further action. This included:

  • Funding for connectivity and befriending services
  • Providing starter packs to support those settling into a new home
  • Funding for toys, including gifts at Christmas for children and young people
  • Funding for clothing and toiletries following a midwife referral
  • Providing cold weather resources such as blankets, hot water bottles, warm clothing, heaters
  • Supporting people with funeral services and develop a traumatic loss service
  • Additional targeted wellbeing support through a range of services, including children’s services, adult social care, activities for people with learning disabilities, and specialist support to help improve cancer journeys

Preventative measures

A number of local authorities took further action to help prevent future hardship. This tended to focus on strengthening pathways between services and meeting needs holistically, and actions often closely aligned with the provision of money advice and action to support wellbeing. Action included:

  • Integrating questions on financial hardship in to the triage for general enquiries and making relevant onward referrals
  • Active gap analysis of households who may be at risk and not already accessing services, and proactive outreach
  • Helping to connect and coordinate multi-agency working to offer holistic support and reduce duplication, including through single contact points, referral pathway improvement and shared service planning
  • Use of a range of platforms and trusted partners to promote support

Support for marginalised groups  

Local authorities often targeted and adapted supports to meet a range of different needs. This included:

  • Proactive outreach, including through trusted partners for Gypsy / Travellers and asylum seekers and refugees
  • Service improvements to support inclusion such as translated materials
  • Targeted service provision, such as designated welfare rights officers and activities that are adapted to meet different needs – for example language assistance services

Similar activities were delivered through the Local Authority Covid Economic Recovery Fund (LACER) to further enhance the financial support provided.

Initial insights to the LACER funding show that a few local authorities have already boosted payments for low-income families, provided child grants for families receiving Free School Meals, additional payments towards school clothing grants  and are supporting a cash-first approach with the introduction of Scotland Loves Local cards. Additional funding is also being used to bolster crisis payments including the Scottish Welfare Fund, Discretionary Hardship Funds and fuel insecurity.

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