New service for advisers - find details of your client's local welfare assistance scheme

Issue 239 (April 2014)

CPAG has launched an innovative new service for advisers and claimants who want to know more about the different local schemes and short-term benefit advances which replaced the discretionary social fund in April 2013. Dan Norris explains what the free service will offer.

The changes to the discretionary social fund in April 2013 have left a confusing and disparate web of provision for benefit claimants in crisis or needing access to emergency support. With over 160 local welfare assistance schemes replacing community care grants and aspects of the crisis loan system, tough eligibility rules for short-term benefit advances and the development of universal credit (UC) budgeting advances, the picture is increasingly complex.

This situation is likely to grow more confusing as local authorities and the Welsh and Scottish governments absorb the news that DWP funding for local welfare assistance schemes will end in April 2015. Many local schemes will radically change or close altogether.

CPAG’s new web-based service is a comprehensive one-stop resource for advisers working with anyone in crisis or an emergency, waiting for their first benefit payment or whose independence in the community is under threat.

The purpose of the resource is to enable advisers to maximise their clients’ entitlement to help from the local welfare assistance schemes and short-term benefit advances, but providing advice information and guidance on how to get payments.

CPAG believes that statistics showing lower than expected demand and expenditure in many local schemes means that vulnerable families are missing out on support they need at critical times.

In addition, a recent freedom of information request to the DWP revealed that applications and expenditure for short-term benefit advances have tumbled compared to crisis loans for alignment which they replaced: average applications for crisis loans for alignment stood at 95,733 per month in 2012/13 with an average of 27,600 people receiving short-term advances each month in the following year.

Average monthly expenditure on crisis loans for alignment fell from £4.83 million in 2012/13 to £381,447 for short-term benefit advances for the following year. The proportion of successful applications has also sharply declined: only 22 per cent applicants were offered an advance in the first three months of the scheme. In the preceding three years, 90 per cent of crisis loan applicants were successful.

The resources

CPAG has developed a postcode-finder tool. Entering a postcode takes you directly to details of the scheme that applies to that postcode. Each local welfare assistance scheme has a dedicated page which includes specific information about the local scheme, giving advisers the inside information needed to make successful applications and challenge negative decisions.

Information about short-term benefit advances will include:

  • expert advice on eligibility and challenging decisions;
  • details of how the advance is calculated and how it will be repaid;
  • help to get short-term advance debts rescheduled if circumstances change;
  • downloadable application letters.

UC budgeting advances will also be covered, with further information on these when (or if) UC is rolled out. Our news section and factsheets give the up-to-date information needed to get ready for this aspect of the UC system, as well as older stop-gap payments for people waiting on their first payments such as housing benefit interim payments.

CPAG is grateful to the Oak Foundation, a philanthropic organisation which supports social and environmental projects across the world, for its backing in setting up and running this service.

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.