Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham

By on 29/11/2013 in News

The BBC Sunday Politics Show is looking at the issue of Local Welfare Provision (formerly the Social Fund) on 1 December.

The programme will claim that many councils have massively underspent the fund designed to support people requiring emergency financial assistance.

That is not the case here in Birmingham and the information below outlines the current situation.

Local Welfare Provision in Birmingham

The Birmingham City Council Local Welfare Provision pot is £6.1 million for the current financial year.

As of 15 November 2013, Birmingham City Council had spent £2,865,561 from this pot to assist people in crisis and in relation to other welfare reforms.

It is anticipated that the first Christmas period of the operation of LWP will result in an increase in applications for both crisis loans as was the case under the previous Social Fund scheme administered by DWP.

The previous DWP administered scheme awarded crisis loans that in many cases perpetuated the cycle of debt for individuals. The Government advised that it did not expect Local Authorities to replicate the previous scheme, which it recognised failed to address needs effectively.

Birmingham City Council took a policy decision to scrap loans and award crisis payments.

Initially, successful applicants for crisis payments were given a pre-paid ASDA card to the value of the award. NB: This was not an exclusive deal but ASDA was the only retailer able to administer the scheme on inception.

The ASDA pre-paid cards will shortly be replaced with VISA debit cards which will also be pre-populated with the award but will allow for greater choice of retail outlets.

The previous DWP administered scheme awarded crisis loans that in many cases perpetuated the cycle of debt for individuals.

Analysis

A total of 6583 LWP applications have been received of which:

  • 3746 Crisis Grant applications and
  • 2837 Community Support Grant applications

During this period a total of £665,561 has been spent through the LWP scheme for on-line emergency and community support applications and fuel payments.

The main additional initiatives funded by the LWP funding to support vulnerable citizens though Local Welfare Provision include the following:

  • Council Tax Support Discretionary Hardship Fund – £0.5million
  • Transitional support for working age Council Tax Support Claimants – £1.7million

Current Developments of the Birmingham Scheme

Since the scheme was introduced in April 2013, monthly data on both successful and unsuccessful applications to the fund has been analysed and the following adjustments have been made to the LWP scheme in response:

From mid December the replacement of the ASDA pre paid card to Visa pre paid card. This change will enable greater choice of retail outlets, thus supporting local businesses.

Continued development of initiatives around emergency fuel for those in need.

As well as the current 4 Homeless Advice Centres (HACs), the city's Youth Hub is being considered as a 5th distribution centre.

Continuance of LWP training provided to service providers including Age Concern and Barnardos and feedback from service users in respect of the effectiveness of the Birmingham scheme remain in place. The training has been as a result of the equalities data analysed each month, in which lower than anticipated numbers of applications were received by specific groups. Following the training, there has been an increase in applications from these groups.

The Future of Birmingham's LWP scheme

Whilst the LWP scheme is still in its infancy, the scheme's future is being strategically embedded to ensure services, across the council and externally services are aware of the scheme and how it operates.

There are many opportunities for the scheme to work in partnership with in key areas such as utilities, third sector organisations, doctors surgeries, schools and debt advice agencies to ensure vulnerable people receive assistance in meeting their needs for subsistence or financial support where they are unable to meet their short term needs of where they require assistance to maintain their independence within the community.

Conclusion

Whilst the level of expenditure against the DWP allocation is somewhat less than had been anticipated prior to the introduction of the scheme there have been a significant number of applicants assisted through crisis as a result of payments made. The slow take up of the schemes is a situation that is reflected nationally and the Local Government Association will shortly engage with DWP to ensure that on-going funding is maintained at current levels whilst these relatively new schemes are embedded and local authorities learn and adjust their schemes according to local conditions

Further initiatives are being developed to extend the fund to those most vulnerable in the city and continuous monitoring of the successes around these will continue and as part of the work of the Welfare Reform Multi Agency Committee.

For information on how you can apply for Local Welfare Provision, go to: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/lwp

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