As part of the welfare reform programme, the Government has abolished the Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans elements of the Social Fund, which were administered centrally by DWP. From 1 April 2013, responsibility for this emergency welfare provision has been passed to local authorities.Birmingham’s Local Welfare Provision policy was agreed following extensive consultation, starting in autumn 2012. Using the Multi-Agency Welfare Reform Committee, we subjected the draft policy to vigorous scrutiny from voluntary organisations working on the front line of crisis support in the city, which resulted in further amendments.
In shaping the policy, we were determined to achieve two key objectives.
1. To avoid stigmatising those in crisis by providing ‘vouchers’ or other identifiable tokens that would mark an individual out as the recipient of a Crisis Grant.
2. We did not want to push vulnerable people further into debt by compelling them to take out a loan. It is worth noting that a sizeable part of the previous Social Fund was based upon the provision of individual loans.
You will find the Cabinet Report and the detailed document setting out the policy attached below, but to summarise, the key elements are:
These are designed to meet expenses that have arisen as a consequence of a disaster and cannot be met from any other source. These expenses must be the only way of preventing or mitigating serious risk to the health and safety of the applicant or their immediate family.
Payments would routinely cover the provision of food, nappies and other essential items such as bedding or crockery and will be facilitated via a pre-paid supermarket card. Other forms of support, for example pre-paid bus tickets, will be provided in exceptional circumstances. We are also working with partners to provide short-term assistance to those facing issues around fuel poverty as a result of a crisis situation.
Community Support Grants
These provide furniture and furnishing, white goods and other household goods required to enable people to continue to live independently. Items will be procured via the City Council and delivered direct to the applicant.
There have been suggestions that we have reached some kind of exclusive arrangement with ASDA stores for the Crisis Grants element of the scheme. This is simply not the case.
We are engaged in talks with a wide range of retailers in order to ensure that those in receipt of a Crisis Grant have both choice and easy access to a local outlet. A number of these retailers were unable to join the scheme in time for the 1 April start date. Negotiations with these other retailers are continuing with a view to engaging them in the scheme as soon as is possible.
Contrary to media reports, many other authorities are not providing cash grants. The other Core Cities are all making use of pre-payment cards. Several are taking a loan-based approach, which we in Birmingham have firmly ruled out for the reasons outlined above. Some councils are imposing very stringent long-term residency tests for applicants or making explicit use of vouchers or stamps.
Several welfare changes come into effect this week, including the new Under Occupancy Rules dubbed the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Whilst we cannot as yet fully quantify the impact of these changes, we can safely assume that they will generate much increased demand for a whole range of services of last resort, including the Council’s own Local Welfare Provision.
It is for that reason that we intend to keep the operation of the new scheme under review and will be looking to make any necessary modifications in order to protect the interests of vulnerable people.
Councillor Sir Albert Bore
Leader of the Council
BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL
Strategic Director of Resources
Date of Decision:
4th March 2013
Local Welfare Provision (Localisation of the former Social Fund)
Key Decision: Yes
Forward Plan number: 467983/ 2013
If not in the Forward Plan:
(please "X" box)
Chief Executive approved
O&S Chairman approved
Relevant Cabinet Member(s):
Councillor Ian Ward and Councillor John Cotton
Relevant O&S Chairman:
Councillor Carl Rice
1. Purpose of report:
1.1 This report seeks approval from Cabinet on the policy for Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham from April 2013.
2. Decision(s) recommended:
2.1 To approve the Councils policy for Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham due to take effect from April 2013.
2.2 To authorise the Corporate Director of Resources (in consultation with the relevant Cabinet Member) to make necessary modifications and/or minor amendments in relation to the scheme for Local Welfare Provision. As this is a new scheme, for which there is limited data, an initial scheme will be introduced for the first 6 months to enable the Council to record and analyse meaningful data. From October 2013 onwards, the initial scheme may be modified to reflect the analysis. This approach is in line with other authorities across the country and is supported by internal stakeholders and voluntary and third sector partners
Lead Contact Officer(s):
Chris Gibbs, Assistant Director Revenues and Benefits
Martin O’Neill, Head of Benefits
0121 464 6387
3.1 Internal The Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Social Cohesion and Equalities, The Chief Executive, Strategic Director of Corporate Resources, Legal Services and Director of Corporate Finance have been consulted.
3.2 External Whilst there is no legal obligation to consult on the discretionary scheme in Local Welfare Provision, considerable consultation has been undertaken as part of the Multi Agency Welfare Reform Group, Probation Service, HM Prisons, internal stakeholders, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), JobcentrePlus, the Independent Review Service and other local authorities.
4. Compliance Issues:
4.1 Are the recommended decisions consistent with the Council’s policies, plans and strategies?
The scheme is designed to provide emergency financial assistance and community care grants to alleviate immediate personal crisis and hardship to some of the most vulnerable citizens in Birmingham.
4.2 Financial Implications
As part of the devolution of the former Social Fund, Government have published the financial settlement for all local authorities covering set up costs, administration costs and Programme Funding for local schemes for the financial years 2013/14 to 2014/15.
The details of the allocation of the above mentioned funding to Birmingham can be found at appendix 1.
A breakdown of the forecasted spend against actual budget is provided in appendix 2. This will enable effective financial monitoring to be put in place as part of the scheme to ensure that the award of grants and crisis payments will not exceed the level of Programme Funding. Once the funding has been exhausted for the financial year, no further awards will be made.
Funding for Year three of the scheme will be subject to evaluation of the expenditure for the first two years which will be carried out by the DWP. The evaluation will be designed to review how the programme funding has been allocated and spent between the two elements. This will provide DWP with the relevant information to decide on future funding allocation.
4.3 Legal Implications
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 provides for the abolition of Social Fund payments formerly administered by DWP and its replacement with a scheme of Local Welfare Provision to be administered by Local Authorities with effect from 1st April 2013.
The Government’s only stipulation for Local Welfare Provision is that we should use the grant to support customers in ‘immediate threat to health and safety’. We are also required to use this grant to provide some financial support to customers moving into the community to replace the existing scheme of Community Care Grants.
Other elements of the discretionary Social Fund will be retained by the DWP, nationally, in the form of short term and budget advances: cash advances and loans for benefit claimants. This facility will be appropriate for claimants that need emergency living expenses.
4.4 Public Sector Equality Duty (see separate guidance note)
Cabinet must have due regard to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. The initial screening of the Equality Impact Needs Assessment (EINA) has demonstrated there are no requirements to complete a full screening. See attached as Appendix 3. However, given the importance of putting fairness and equality at the heart of our decision making, the scheme will be promoted across all sectors and monthly monitoring of authorised and refused cases will take place to ensure there is no discrimination being applied. This monitoring and evaluation will also enable the Benefits Service to target resource in assisting those most in need and those groups of people who are under represented, based on the monitoring data. Applications will be limited to a maximum of 2 awards per year. However, for applicants with physical disabilities, where it is recognised the disability will have a detrimental effect on household goods, the maximum applications will increase from 2 to 3 per year.
The Policy for Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham is attached as appendix 4.
5. Relevant background/chronology of key events:
5.1 In October 2010 The Government published the White paper “Universal Credit: Welfare That Works”. The White Paper detailed the Government’s proposals for wide-ranging welfare reform which have subsequently been included within the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
5.2 Included in these proposals is the abolition of the Social Fund, currently administered by the DWP. This is to be replaced with a local system of welfare provision, administered by local authorities from April 2013, which will be designed to meet local needs and priorities.
5.3 The funding currently in place for Social Fund will now be transferred to local authorities in the form of Programme Funding as described in section 4.
5.4 The Government believes the system will be better delivered locally and will empower local communities to better identify and meet the needs of the most vulnerable within their own localities. It has also identified that through localising the service it may be possible to improve the quality of the decision making, as well as integrating with locally designed programmes that can provide complementary avenues of assistance. It is not intended that local welfare provision should replicate the current system of Social Fund payments. Local authorities are being provided with the discretion to develop a scheme that is most effective in delivering the needs of its own citizens.
5.5 The specific elements of the Social Fund that will be replaced with local provision are:
Community Care Grants
5.6 The new scheme will be administered as part of the function of the Benefit Service, in line with other local authorities in England.
5.7 The local scheme must be operational with effect from 1 April 2013.
5.8 Feedback received from the Department for Work and Pensions in early February shows that Birmingham City Council is one of only two Local Authorities within central England with a status of green in terms of readiness for implementing the Local Welfare Provision.
5.9 The key principles are set out in the attached policy are summarised below;
The Birmingham scheme will introduce a system of Crisis Grants which will be made for the provision of the following:
Food and heating
Nappies and other essential items such as bedding, crockery etc.
Other forms of support will be considered in exceptional circumstances i.e. pre-paid bus tickets
Payments will be made via a system of payment cards credited to the relevant value of the award. Once authorised, these cards will be distributed through the City’s 4 Homeless Centres and can be spent in specific supermarkets.
The Birmingham scheme will also introduce a system of Community Support Grants considered for the provision of the following:
Furniture and Furnishings
It is our proposal to pilot an initial scheme for the first 6 months. During this time, items will be procured through the City Councils Corporate Procurement system and delivered direct to the applicants address. From October onwards, the Council will aim to procure local suppliers.
The principles of the Birmingham scheme are designed to be:
Accessible to applicants
Delivered on a grant-based system that will not require applicants to repay any award made
A streamlined assessment and decision making process
Make use of technology to minimise cash transactions
Deliver value for money through efficient procurement of key goods and services
‘Out of hours’ provision for those in crisis
Methods of payment will be respectful of the dignity of those who apply
These key principles have been shared with internal stakeholders and voluntary sector partners who support our proposed approach.
5.10 Assessments for Community Care Grants and Crisis Payments will be made against a set of eligibility criteria based on an individual’s personal circumstances. This will include consideration of the specific needs of the individual in terms of any crisis being experienced. In line with other discretionary schemes, a selection criteria is also being developed to allow transparency and accountability.
5.11 The scheme for Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham will be publicised primarily through the City Councils website and via third sector organisations in the city. As this is a cash limited budget, a decision has been made not to promote the scheme amongst service users however, following evaluation of the monitoring within the first 6 months, this decision may need to be reconsidered, i.e. low applications from minority ethnic groups or pensioners.
6. Evaluation of alternative option(s):
6.1 The City Council can elect not to adopt a scheme of Local Welfare Provision as this is not a statutory requirement. The funding is not ring fenced and as such may be utilised in any way in which Councils see fit.
6.2 However it is recommended by Government that Authorities do in fact utilise the devolved programme funding to support the needs of its most vulnerable citizens in times of crisis and this is the policy intention for Birmingham.
7. Reasons for Decision(s):
7.1 The policy will enable the City to deliver a suitable scheme that aligns with corporate requirements and within acceptable timescales to alleviate crisis and financial hardship.
7.2 This will enable the council to closely monitor and if necessary to modify the scheme and carry out effective evaluation of the initial outcomes following its introduction in April 2013.
Signatures (or relevant Cabinet Member approval to adopt the Decisions recommended):
Chief Officer(s): ………………………………………………………
Cabinet Member: ………………………………………………………
Cabinet Member: ………………………………………………………
List of Background Documents used to compile this Report:
List of Appendices accompanying this Report (if any):
1. Birmingham’s funding allocation
2. Forecast expenditure against budget
3. Equality Assessment Initial Screening
4. Policy for Local Welfare Provision