Welcome to the Early Warning System newsletter – August 2015

What is the Early Warning System?

With welfare reform expected to drive 100,000 more children into child poverty by 2020[i], CPAG in Scotland set up the Early Warning System[ii] (EWS) to gather information and case studies about the impact of welfare reform on children and families across Scotland. Using this information we identify changes that could be made to mitigate some of the impacts of welfare reform. We acknowledge the support of the Scottish Government through the Third Sector Early Intervention Fund, managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland

By the end of July 2015, we had collected over 1100 case studies from:

  • CPAG’s second tier advice line
  • 85 frontline workers from other organisations signed up to submit case studies online
  • People attending CPAG training and events
  • Research following 12 low income families over 2 years
  • Qualitative research with six families accessing food banks

What have we learned from the Early Warning System?

Each month we focus on one of our key findings from the EWS. This month we are looking at the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is a grant scheme administered by local authorities. It provides grants (called community care grants and crisis grants) to people who are going through crisis, disaster, experiencing exceptional pressure or struggling to live independently. The fund is an essential safety net for many low income households and you can learn more about it here.

At present the Scottish Welfare Fund is administered by local authorities (find your local scheme here) with reference to national guidance. Legislation recently passed in Scotland which will make the scheme permanent. You can read CPAG’s response to a recent consultation on the permanent scheme here:

While the SWF is invaluable to many people, EWS cases highlight some problems that local authorities and advisors should be aware of:

• Cases gathered through the EWS indicate that the national guidance is not always followed by decision makers. For example, some local authorities insisting that applicants be in receipt of a ‘qualifying benefit’ when the only financial requirement is that they be on a low income.

Client with mental health problems claimed ESA and PIP. ESA was not put into payment immediately as additional information was required regarding the client’s capital and he has been waiting more than 7 months for his PIP assessment. The client applied for a crisis grant but was initially refused because he was not in receipt of a qualifying benefit. #Mii38

• Other cases indicate that Scottish Welfare Fund awards are sometimes inadequate and do not always meet applicants’ needs.

Parents who both have mental health conditions applied for a community care grant (CCG) to replace furniture and carpets that had been destroyed by their child who has autism, behavioural problems and incontinence. The vouchers awarded did not cover the costs of the items in the specified shop. Higher awards were awarded on review but delayed the items being replaced by two months. No award was made for the soiled carpets. The CCG was needed to improve living conditions at home, where the family spend a lot of time because of the difficulties experience by their disabled son outside. The other child is too embarrassed to invite friends round because of the state of the place, affecting her social life as a child. #MX6

• Applicants should be treated with dignity and respect and make a complaint if this doesn’t happen. Sadly several applicants report feeling humiliated and upset with their interaction with the fund.

Mary was horrified that in order to receive the £18.63 she had to go to a local shop with a Pay Point. ‘I was desperate to go and get, like, essentials, milk and bread….I had to go up to the Pay Point where two of my friends work, and I’m a very private person, and it’s the manager, they actually shout on the manager to come through and do it. I was so embarrassed’.

‘I was so embarrassed. I wish I had just left it. It was so degrading. I know we all need help in life now and again, and you have to hit the bottom before you come up again, but it was so degrading’…..I’m not caring if I’ve got half a slice of bread I’ll never do it again, never ever’.

What can you do?

Feedback from our qualitative research participants and from the EWS Scottish Welfare Fund policy seminar suggests that awareness of the scheme is low among members of the public.

  • If you work with the public, do you know what the SWF is and who might be eligible?
  • Do you know how to contact the SWF in your area? Could you made links with the staff there?
  • Could you do more to promote the Scottish Welfare Fund and its purpose? This might include publicising the contact details for your local fund.
  • Could you support people to make an application? This might include printing out application forms or allowing people to use your phones or computers. It might also include helping people with the cost of travelling to make an application or picking up a grant.
  • If you work for a local authority are you confident your scheme is accessible to people on the lowest incomes? Could you access it if you had no phone and no money for transport?

Good practice: Support clients to challenge SWF decisions

Applicants can challenge decision and awards they don’t agree with. The following case study was received from an employment support worker:

I supported a client with learning difficulties to apply for a crisis grant because he had a month’s wait for his first wage having signed off JSA. We were initially told the Scottish Welfare Fund is for emergencies only and the client should be able to access support from the DWP. I phoned the DWP who confirmed that there was no support that the client would be entitled. I then advised the Scottish Welfare Fund of this and the client’s application for a crisis grant was accepted.

If you are unsure about any aspect of the Scottish welfare fund then you can contact CPAG in Scotland’s advice line for advisors.

Newsflash! Universal credit and discretionary housing payments

Under DWP guidance, universal credit (UC) claimants in receipt of the housing element of universal credit should be eligible to receive DHPs. However, in three local authority areas, claimants have wrongly been told that they must be in receipt of housing benefit (rather than UC) in order to qualify. The local authorities’ websites and DHP application forms also make no mention of UC. If this happens to one of your clients, make them aware of;

How we’ve used the cases recently

The cases have informed our policy, campaigns, media and training work, allowing us to ensure the real experiences of low income families influence public policy and debate.

Policy and campaigns:

Service planning:

  • We attended a child poverty event in East Ayrshire and used EWS learning to inform the future plans of the Community Planning Partnership in that area.

EWS in the news:

Coming up

  • We are continuing to developing our manifesto in advance of the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016. We’d love to hear your views on what our priorities should be. Email us or send us a tweet @cpagscotland
  • The Scottish Government’s conversation on social justice is ongoing and we will be using EWS cases to highlight problems and priorities in the coming weeks. If you have any case studies that you think would be relevant, please let us know.

Get involved with the Early Warning System

Whilst we have over a thousand cases we need to collect more from frontline workers who have face to face contact with families and a true understanding of the impacts of welfare reform on the ground. If you would be interested in submitting case studies or have any queries about the EWS please get in touch with:

We would like to thank everyone who has submitted case studies to the Early Warning System. It is your case studies that bring the impacts of welfare reform to life.