Local welfare assistance: latest news
As the deadline for the government to make a final decision on the future funding of local welfare assistance schemes (LWAS) nears, there have been a number of significant developments in recent weeks. Dan Norris explains.
Following CPAG’s success in the judicial review of the decision to end Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) funding for LWAS,1 the government agreed to complete a review of the current schemes, consult on funding for 2015/16 and consider the equalities implications of its funding decision. The government has confirmed it will publish its final decision on LWAS funding by the end of the year.
The consultation, which ended on 21 November, was criticised after it was revealed that the government is not actively considering maintaining the status quo: continued DWP funding for LWAS (worth £172 million in 2014/15), instead proposing that, in future, LWAS should be funded from existing council/devolved government budgets. CPAG has responded to the consultation by calling for continuation of the current DWP funding and for the funding be ring-fenced to protect LWAS in future. Read CPAG’s response.
A government review of existing LWAS, published in November 2014,2 revealed that while 80 per cent of local authorities did not spend their full allocation of funding in 2013/14, over half of local authorities predict that they will spend their entire budget in the current year. The sharp increase in expenditure is explained by factors including the relaxation of strict eligibility criteria and increased awareness of the scheme among local residents.
Over three quarters of local authorities will withdraw or drastically reduce their LWAS unless DWP funding is renewed beyond April 2015. A Local Government Association (LGA) survey, published in October, revealed that only 8 per cent of councils plan to continue LWAS unchanged after April 2015 if direct DWP funding is cut. The LGA described the proposal to cut the funding as ‘counterproductive’.
Meanwhile, CPAG has made available over one hundred LWAS policy documents, internal guidance, staff manuals and training materials on our LWAS webpages. These materials were obtained from English local authorities through a freedom of information request and will help advisers to fully understanding of the rules and priorities governing their local scheme and to frame appropriate and successful applications. CPAG has challenged authorities that have failed to respond to the freedom of information request and more documents are being uploaded each day.
In Scotland, the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill 2014, which will confer on the Scottish government a duty to run a scheme similar to the provisional Scottish Welfare Fund after April 2015, is being considered by the Welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament.
The Welsh government remains committed to ‘seek to protect’ the Welsh Discretionary Assistance Fund, but is unable to make firm announcements in advance of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement, which will include details of future funding for the devolved governments.3
In Northern Ireland, the introduction of a LWAS, to be called Discretionary Support, has been delayed by political deadlock over the Welfare Reform Bill (NI) 2012 in the Northern Ireland Assembly.4 Community care grants and crisis loans can currently still be claimed in Northern Ireland.
Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Therefore older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.