Challenge Poverty Week: Day Two – Scottish Welfare Fund
Perth and Kinross Council
This week is #ChallengePovertyWeek
We’re putting the spotlight on a different local authority every day to highlight the steps they’re taking to tackle poverty in their community.
Today we are focussing on Perth & Kinross Council’s Scottish Welfare Fund team.
The Scottish Welfare Fund provides a safety net for people on low incomes. This is a discretionary scheme administered by local authorities and is just one of the ways councils are helping to tackle poverty in their area.
Through the Scottish Welfare Fund, you can apply for a:
- Crisis Grant – if you're in crisis because of a disaster (like a fire or flood), or an emergency (like losing your money or an unexpected expense)
- Community Care Grant – to help you or someone you care for to start to live, or to carry on living, a settled life in the community
Perth & Kinross Council (PKC) uses a person-centred and holistic approach to deliver their service. It seeks to look beyond the customer’s presenting issue with the aim of finding longer-term sustainable solutions for households whether they are applying for short-term financial assistance or whether they require assistance to set up home or to continue to live in the community.
All of their decision-makers have the knowledge and skills to undertake benefit checks so that customers receive the right advice at the first point of contact, preventing the need for onward referral for basic benefits advice. It is not uncommon for a decision-maker working on a Crisis Grant to also identify the need for a Discretionary Housing Payment, Free School Meals or School Clothing Grants in the process of their decision making and they will then ensure that these are processed for the customer at that point.
There have been a few instances over the years where School Clothing Grants have been paid to people applying for Crisis Grants because they’ve used their income to buy school clothes and haven’t been aware that they could have applied for assistance. Similarly, the team often identify credits on people’s rent or Council Tax accounts which can be refunded to them to tide them over when they require financial assistance.
This method of delivery ensures that the right things happen for people, on these occasions the customer has received what they needed to tide them over and this also ensures that the albeit limited funding is targeted at those who have no other alternatives. The team also routinely identify that statutory entitlements such as disability benefits or assistance with Council Tax are missing and ensure that people are aware of this and receive assistance to claim their entitlements.
Perth and Kinross Council Leader, Murray Lyle said: “Last year our Scottish Welfare Fund Team received over 5,000 applications for financial assistance. In Perth & Kinross we were able to award vital financial assistance to almost 3,000 residents at times of crisis. This helped individuals and families to live independently in our communities. The Team aims to ensure that anyone accessing the service is aware of their statutory entitlements. We also refer clients to partner agencies to ensure that the they can access the correct advice and support. The Team does this to ensure that everyone gets the best possible outcomes for their circumstances.”
The team receive a limited amount of funding each year and demand is slowly but surely outweighing the amount they are allocated, over the last three years demand has increased by around 20% from just over 4,000 applications per year to over 5,000 for Crisis and Community Care Grants alone.
Jenny had received a Community Care Grant and said,
“It’s a very good service, it helped me at a time when I wouldn’t have been able to afford what I needed for my house. I was moving to a ground floor flat because I had difficulty managing the stairs in my other house. The guys that did my removals were great, they moved everything and took away things that were being flung out.”
PKC’s Scottish Welfare Fund team received over 5,000 applications and awarded almost 3,000 grants to the people in their communities last financial year, distributing over £600,000 in funds. The team also augmented the fund, locally last year by £11,000. The first quarter of this financial year they have received an average of 50 additional grant applications, and are projecting that if this trend continues (350 Crisis Grants per month) that they will require at least an additional £40,000 in order to meet the demand.
The team are using existing information to reach decisions as quickly as possible for people and to prevent them from having to provide evidence that is not required. They pay 99% of Crisis Grants the same day and the majority of these are paid to their customers within a couple of hours. The majority of Crisis Grants are paid either via electronic bank transfer or via PayPoint, which gives them the ability to pay people wherever they live within a vast local authority area. The majority of Community Care Grants are fulfilled by providing the items that people require with delivery, installation and disposal of damaged or broken goods, if required.
Sarah has applied for both Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants in the past, when asked about the service she received from the team she said,
“The Team were great, they chatted to me like I was someone they knew, it was very relaxed and informal”.
Access to the service is 24/7 with online access being the most common way that people apply (Crisis Grants [40% online] and Community Care Grants [80% online]). The team work with partner organisations by making them aware of the service they provide and delivering training to them so that they can best support their clients/customers/patients to apply for assistance. Building capacity within their and other organisations and within communities is key to ensuring that people are aware of the help available to them and key to delivering a sustainable service.