The Welfare Reform Act 2012 provided for the abolition of the discretionary social fund.
At the time, the coalition government argued that social fund decisions were being made too remotely to target help to the most needy, and that local authorities and devolved administrations could better meet their communities’ needs through localised provision.
As a result, from April 2013, funding to meet this need was transferred to local authorities and devolved administrations.
Opportunity for change
The move created an opportunity to rethink when and how the funding should be disseminated to those who needed it, says Chris Gittins, head of the financial inclusion unit at the Welsh government. “The discretionary element of the social fund, which was run by the Department for Work and
Pensions, was abolished from 2013: so that was community care grants and crisis loans,” he says.
“The allocation of funding came to the Welsh and Scottish governments and local government in England and we had to look at what provision needed to be put in place as a consequence of those changes.
“We had a consultation at the start of 2012 to look at how this could work across Wales. We asked a number of key questions, including whether we should we have national eligibility for accessing any scheme and should we offer [the funding] as a grant as opposed to a loan, as it was currently being done.”
Using the outcomes of the consultation, the Welsh government created the new scheme, now known as the discretionary assistance fund (DAF).
“The DAF is there to support those people who are most vulnerable, in crisis, and helps them establish themselves or live independently in the community,” Mr Gittins explains.
“There are two elements. One is the emergency assistance payment. This generally ranges from a £50-£80 payment for when someone is in crisis and doesn’t have money for food, gas, electricity and so on; they might have been the victim of a fire or flood, for example. It’s to support people in the short term, for three to five days.”
The emergency assistance payment marked a significant change in the way the funding was allocated and the administration’s relationship with the people it was helping. Previously, this funding was administered as a loan.
“This used to be the crisis loan, which I understand was deducted from people’s benefits over time,” Mr Gittins explains.
“After considering the consultation responses, we decided that loans were an added burden for people who may already be in debt, so now they are payments.”
Replacing community care grants, the Welsh government brought in individual assistance payments. The purpose of these is similar to the previous community care grants but they are administered differently with people getting the items they are awarded, rather than a cash payment.
“The individual assistance payment provides household goods to support resettlement into the community. So, for example, this can support people who are homeless and moving into accommodation, prison leavers or people fleeing domestic violence and need goods. It covers things like cookers or fridges,” Mr Gittins explains.
How it works
In 2013, the Welsh government awarded the contract for administering the DAF to Northgate Public Services (NPS) following a procurement process. NPS has managed the fund and processed the applications from citizens, paying out £14m to people in need over the past two years.
The work is carried out in partnership with Wrexham CBC and Family Fund Trading (FFT). FFT is the trading arm of Family Fund, a UK-wide charity that supports low-income families with disabled children through giving grants for goods and services and which, via its trading arm, provides other organisations with grantgiving services.
Over the two years from April 2013 to April 2015, more than 270,000 calls were received and 91,000 applications for funding were processed. More than 58,000 applications - 67% of those made - were successful and where grants were not awarded, applicants were signposted to other agencies for support.
Mr Gittins says that people can apply for the fund online, by telephone and by post. For the individual assistance payments, successful applicants are notified by letter of their entitlement and their goods are then delivered and installed for them. For the emergency assistance payments, successful applicants are notified by text message and they can then go to allocated pay-points to withdraw the money.
“The turnaround time for the emergency assistance fund is 24 hours and for the individual assistance payment it is 10 working days,” Mr Gittins says.
A close relationship between the Welsh government and its partner NPS is essential given the scale of the applications received and the focus of the
“The assessments are done by NPS; they look at the applications, question them when they need to, and come to a decision based on the Welsh government guidelines,” Mr Gittins says.
“We meet with them on a monthly basis to discuss progress.”
The relationship between Welsh government, NPS and the other partners who manage the fund has been a positive one, enabling the fund to support those most in need. The Welsh government has awarded the contract to NPS to administer £8.4m in DAF payments for a third year (2015-16). The next step, Mr Gittins says, is to build on the partnerships the fund has with other organisations, both in the third and public sectors. “This will help us develop our partner supported applications,” he explains.
“While we recognise many partner organisations are busy and may have limited resources, we have been keen to stress that the DAF is a potential source of support for somebody coming through their door. Therefore, they could help by either signposting them to DAF or supporting them with an application.”
Feature sponsored by Northgate Public Services