Letter to the Committee from Bolton Metro
Social Services Department (SF 17)
The Role, Practice and Future of the Social Fund
We are writing as Social Workers from a Community
Mental Health Team with considerable "front line" experience
of the workings of the Social Fund, particularly the Discretionary
Social Fund. We are closely involved in supporting service users
with severe and enduring mental health needs who often rely upon
payments from the Social Fund to enable them to set up home or
to remain living in the community.
We would like to make four main criticisms in
relation to the operation of the Discretionary Social Fund:
1. The Social Fund loans system has
proven to be extremely problematic for vulnerable service users.
Given that many individuals applying for financial
assistance are already subsisting on benefit levels, the practice
of offering Social Fund loans clearly also leads to further indebtedness.
Loans are repaid by deductions at source from benefits. The existence
of Social Fund loans can also act as a disincentive to welfare
provision, discouraging some individuals from actually seeking,
or indeed accepting the financial help that they may need.
2. In some cases the Social Fund has
issued loans, instead of grants, despite applicants possessing
priority criteria for the award of a grant.
These cases have been a matter of concern when
loans appear to have been issued by the Benefits Agency, in lieu
of Community Care Grants. Again, it is the community care needs
of vulnerable applicants which are then not fully met as unnecessary
indebtedness may be incurred.
3. The exclusion of claimants not
in receipt of Income Support has left gaps in community care welfare
We have found that many service users who receive
Incapacity Benefit are as much in need of extra help from the
Social Fund. Whilst Incapacity Benefit claimants do receive a
slightly higher rate of benefit than those on Income Support,
this additional money is often swallowed up in contributions towards
rent and Council Tax. Thus there have been service users in receipt
of Incapacity Benefit whose financial circumstances and community
care needs (in terms of requiring essential household items) may
well be largely similar to those receiving Income Support. Yet
those particular individuals in receipt of Incapacity Benefit
are not entitled to help from the Social Fund. We would argue
that the role of the Social Fund, to promote community care is
clearly found wanting in such circumstances. In our view, this
is a major discrepancy where the Social Fund does not provide
often very necessary additional financial help for many vulnerable
service users with long term mental health needs simply because
they do not receive the "gateway benefit" of Income
4. Reduced payments of both loans and
grants have occurred towards the end of the financial year.
We have encountered cases where Social Fund
payments to service users, of both loans and grants, have been
at reduced levels due to a depleted local Benefits Agency budget,
particularly in February and March.
Proposals for the future of the Social Fund
1. We propose that Social Fund loans be
abolished in favour of a system where only Community Care Grants
are available to meet the community care needs of vulnerable people.
2. That the eligibility criteria should
be extended specifically to include claimants who are in receipt
of Incapacity Benefit, subject to the current "means-test"
on savings and assets.
3. That a consistently available budget
should be provided to avoid unfairness in the system, when reduced
payments are made in the months prior to April, the end of the
We hope that our criticisms and proposals can
be included in your review of the Social Fund.
Barbara Davies, Team Leader
Mick Downes Melanie Gale Julie Haywood
Alan Hitchen Alison Hughes Helen Lee
Alison Marsh Nayna Pitamber Simon Rogerson
Social Work Students:
Tony Durkin Shannon Stanley
12 January 2001