Low level of welfare grant help

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.

Scottish Borders Council has been ranked bottom in Scotland for providing crisis grants to people in hardship and financial emergencies.

New Scottish Government figures show that the authority has the lowest acceptance rate for crisis grants in Scotland, with just over one third of applicants successful between April and June of this year.

The number of people Scottish Borders Council turns away in a crisis is the highest in Scotland, and of the applicants who were successful the average payment was just £46 - the lowest average payment of any Scottish council.

Crisis grants help people who need money quickly due to an emergency or a disaster and are funded by the Scottish Government’s welfare fund. Eligibility is determined by their local authority, and Scottish Borders Council has so far granted payments to just 38 per cent of applicants.

The Scottish welfare fund also includes community grant payments to help individuals live independently, paying for furniture, kitchen appliances etc. Scottish Borders Council accepted just 37 per cent of community care grant applications - the second lowest in Scotland.

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council explained: “Applications are usually made through an appointment system over the phone to allow the applicant to explain their situation. This allows a more robust decision making process compared with a solely paper based process and allows the decision maker to better take into account all of the claimant’s circumstances as well as signpost to other more appropriate assistance. 

“The main reason for refusal is that an applicant does not meet the qualifying conditions for an award - around 43%. However, SBC works with partner organisations to ensure that anyone who is potentially eligible makes an application. Staff in the customer advice and support service have delivered awareness sessions to support workers, stakeholders and third sector about the scheme and other assistance available.”  

“By encouraging applications it allows the decision maker to make a holistic decision if a Crisis Grant is the most suitable form of assistance and refer to other agencies where appropriate.”

A spokesperson from the Scottish Government national statistics office said: “In the latest quarter from April to June 2018, local authorities received 16,175 applications for community care grants, and awarded £5.8m for items such as floor coverings, furniture and kitchen appliances.

“During the same quarter, local authorities received 45,290 applications for crisis grants, and awarded £2.3m for items such as food and essential heating costs.

“In total local authorities were allocated £33m for Scottish welfare fund awards in 2018/19, and have an estimated additional £2.3m in underspend carried forward from previous financial years.

“By June 2018, 23 per cent of these available funds had been spent, the same proportion as at June 2017.

“From when the Scottish welfare fund scheme began on April 1, 2013 until June 30, 2018, 306,305 individual households have received awards totalling £173m.”

Reacting to the figures, Tweeddale East councillor Heather Anderson said: “As a local councillor I am concerned that our council is doing everything it can to alleviate the impact of Tory austerity and the roll out of universal credit across the Borders.

“I am therefore concerned that we are only spending around 63 per cent of the funds we receive directly from the Scottish Government through the Welfare Fund.

“In terms of spending the budget we are allocated, we are the second lowest in Scotland, why would this be?

“I am even more concerned that we have the lowest application acceptance rates for crisis grants in Scotland, with only 38 per cent of applications being accepted.

“Nationally the average acceptance rate is 68 per cent. We are almost the mirror image of the rest of Scotland, with nearly six out of ten people being refused help here, whilst in the rest of the country nearly seven out of ten people receive help. I need to understand why things are so different here in the Borders.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Scottish Borders Council has also seen an 11% decrease in applications last year.

“We need to receive a full report on why there is such a discrepancy in the way we allocate our welfare funds here in the Borders and ensure we work harder to meet the needs of people locally.”