Inspecting the inspectors (2010)
In the latest of an occasional series of articles on the decisions of social fund inspectors (see Bulletins 196, 197, 200 and 204), Edward Graham examines some recent cases relating to community care grants.
The Independent Review Service for the social fund (SF) has published Issue 38 of its Journal, which includes the latest Digest of Decisions. The editorial states that there has been ‘quite a gap’ between Issues 37 and 38. In fact, the gap has been nearly two years and no explanation is given for it (the Journal was generally produced three times a year). But better late than never! The decisions of the Social Fund Inspectors (SFIs) are not legally binding on decision makers or SF reviewing officers, but can be a useful pointer as to how the SF directions and official guidance is being, and should be, applied.
Most of the decisions in the latest Digest relate to Social Fund Direction 4(a)iii which states:
‘A Social fund payment may be awarded to promote community care by assisting an applicant with expenses, including expenses of travel within the United Kingdom, (except those excluded by these directions) wheresuch assistance will ease exceptional pressures on the applicant and his family.’
Payments are made in the form of a community care grant (CCG) which is not repayable. The decisions in the Digest illustrate what pressures SFIs consider to be ‘exceptional’ and how the award of a CCG could ease such pressures. The numeric case references are those given in the Digest.
The claimant was a 17-year-old lone parent with a young baby who was in receipt of income support. She applied for a CCG for various basic items of furniture and household equipment to enable her to set up home in unfurnished privately rented accommodation. At the time she made the application, she was still living with her parents and a CCG was refused on the basis that there was no evidence that she was under ‘exceptional pressure’. By the time the SFI considered the case, the claimant was estranged from her parents following major arguments about her baby’s care and had moved and was living in a virtually empty flat. The SFI considered that a 17-year-old looking after a baby in such circumstances was under exceptional pressure and awarded a CCG for ‘high priority items’ including a fridge, cooker, carpet and kitchen utensils, but not for ‘medium priority items’ such as a microwave, washing machine and freezer, which would not have a ‘substantial impact’ on easing the pressure. The commentary on the case states that moving in itself does not normally constitute exceptional pressure and there needs to be other difficult circumstances to warrant an award.
The claimant applied for a CCG for a cooker, bed, cot, wardrobe, coffee table, curtains and carpet for unfurnished local authority accommodation he had recently been allocated. He and his partner had a 13-month-old child, who suffered with eczema behind her knees. They were both continuing to live at their respective parents’ homes until the accommodation was more fully furnished. The DWP refused the application for a CCG and the SFI concluded this was the correct decision. The family were clearly facing pressures (setting up home together and their daughter’s eczema) but they were not exceptional (they were gradually furnishing their home and the eczema was not serious) or very different to those faced by all families on a low income seeking to set up home together for the first time.
The claimant was a diabetic who had re-established contact with his 15-year-old daughter after a period of estrangement due to his transient lifestyle. He applied for a CCG for a bed, bedding, carpet and washing machine. He needed the bed and bedding so that his daughter could stay over with him on a regular basis. The DWP refused a CCG but the SFI inspector awarded a grant for the bed and bedding. In doing so the SFI took into account not only the family history and current difficulties, but also the expressed wish of the daughter to reestablish contact with her father. The award of a CCG was crucial to her ability to stay with her father which would enable them to rebuild their relationship, and the current situation was a source of exceptional pressure on both of them.
The claimant applied for a CCG for a cooker, freezer, tumble drier, chest of drawers, table and chairs, bedding and curtains. She was a lone parent with a five-year-old child and was also pregnant. The items she needed were to replace ones that were either worn out or broken, although she had been awarded a CCG for some of them two years earlier when she moved into the accommodation. The DWP refused a grant and the SFI upheld that decision. Although accepting that things were difficult for the claimant, the SFI decided that, on balance, the pressures could not be described as exceptional, although any further difficulties could have tipped the balance towards qualification. In particular, the claimant had use of a microwave oven and her family nearby, to whom she went to frequently for meals.
The claimant applied for a CCG for a washing machine, a bed and clothing, and footwear for himself and his wife. He was a full-time carer for his wife who suffered with depression, panic attacks, urinary incontinence and had a back strain. She received disability living allowance care and mobility. He was also the main carer of the couple’s three children, who were all in primary school. The DWP awarded a CCG for the bed and washing machine – both of which they decided would have a ‘substantial and immediate effect’ on easing the exceptional pressures on the family. The SFI decided that in addition a CCG should be paid for footwear and coats for the couple, but not other items of clothing. Her problems as a disabled person and his role as a carer meant that they had a particular need for these items, which would ease the exceptional pressures they were under.
The claimant applied for a CCG for a bed and bedding for her 20-month-old son. She was a lone parent and was expecting another child shortly and needed to use her son’s cot for the baby. She had experienced post natal depression after the birth of her first child and had recently become estranged from both her partner and her mother, who had provided her with a lot of support in the past. The DWP and the SFI accepted that the claimant was under exceptional pressure which would be eased by a CCG but refused her application on the grounds of insufficient priority. In particular, they concluded that the need for a bed and bedding did not arise from the source of the pressures (relationship breakdowns, social isolation and health problems) and have would have little impact on easing those particular pressures. In addition, the local CCG budget was insufficient to meet any medium priority needs and some high priority needs, so that even urgent and compelling needs sometimes had to be refused.
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