Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Leicestershire County Council (SF 18)

  I hope that it will be possible to add the following comments to discussion over the operation of the Social Fund.

  The first comment relates to catering for some of the needs for those in long-term hospital accommodation. It is felt that the current scheme of grants and loans should be altered so as to allow assistance with basic clothing or footwear items. These cannot usually be met from very low weekly benefits.

  The second comment relates to the lack of consistency between Community Care Grant decisions for those establishing themselves in new accommodation. It is felt that certain basic items should be accepted as essential if the individual does not have access to help with them from any other source.

Assistance for those in Longer-term Hospital Accommodation.

  1.  The current scheme of grants and loans does not cater in any meaningful way for the needs of those in long-term "hospital type" accommodation. We receive a number of enquiries from individuals who are resident in hospital or other similar forms of care for a period of perhaps two or more years. They are often undergoing rehabilitation programmes over a prolonged period. The "hospital" accommodation in which they are resident can be in the form of converted houses or complexes in residential areas.

  2.  These service users are very often reliant on basic weekly benefits. Due to their being in "hospital type" accommodation they will not be in receipt of Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance. Due to their having been in hospital for over one year their weekly benefit will generally be £13.50 per week regardless of which benefit they receive. This can assist them to purchase basic toiletries, snacks and other personal items. It does not allow them to purchase adequate footwear or clothing.

  3.  As they are considered to be in a form of care, they are not able to receive a Community Care Grant unless they are to be discharged within a few weeks. As they are receiving such a low weekly rate of benefit it is not really feasible for them to apply for a Budgeting Loan. Many in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance or Retirement Pension will have lost any Income Support entitlement whilst in hospital and so would not have access to such loans in any case.

  4.  Although technically receiving NHS care, it is often the case that these individuals are part of the local community in that they walk around the neighbourhood, visit the shops, travel on buses, etc. Indeed this may form part of their rehabilitation programme. Having to do this whilst only possessing shabby and extremely old clothing and footwear cases distress, embarrassment and can exacerbate some mental health symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety or low self-esteem. It certainly does not assist them to move towards rehabilitation into living independently in the community.

  5.  It may be that in previous decades the hospitals provided clothing for patients. This no longer seems to be the case.

  6.   It is respectfully suggested to the Committee that small one-off grants for those in longer-term hospital accommodation should be available for clothing or footwear.

Community Care Grants for Setting Up New Accommodation

  7.  Many of our service users apply for grants in order to assist with basic household items to furnish new accommodation. Such accommodation may have been needed following a period of homelessness, after the breakdown of a relationship or after an emergency or disaster situation.

  8.  The Community Care Grant scheme requires that the Social Fund Officer accepts that they meet "Direction 4" in that they need help re-establishing themselves in the community, need help to remain in the community, are a family under pressure, etc.

  9.  Once this has been accepted then the Social Fund Officer will consider the priority of the need for each particular item requested. This will relate to the individual's particular circumstances and how the need for the items arose.

  10.  However, once it has been accepted that the individual meets Direction 4 and that they cannot obtain items elsewhere, there is often a great deal of debate around the level of priority that particular items should be given. For example, it is generally accepted that a cooker and a bed would be needed. It is sometimes accepted that a fridge would be needed. It is rarely accepted that a wardrobe would be needed.

  11.  Whilst reasons are given for any item being considered low priority, it is evident that the decision is primarily based on the state of the local budget. The reasoning for a refusal is put together after the real internal decision that there is not enough money to pay for an item. Standard and regularly repeated reasons are given for refusing particular items; but these reasons are accepted to be fallacious in relation to other applications when the budget is more healthy.

  12.  This therefore means that the level of help given to an individual to set up a new home is unduly influenced by the state of the local budget at the specific point when the application is submitted.

  13.   It is respectfully suggested to the Committee that a baseline set of items should be accepted as necessary to set up a new home. It should be assumed that particular needs such as a small wardrobe, set of drawers, some curtains, etc should be allowed assuming that the individual meets the other necessary qualifying conditions. Any other items or higher costs than average should be a matter for more discretionary consideration. A person setting up a new flat after a relationship breakdown and related six month stay in psychiatric hospital should not be subjected to having to vehemently argue their need for a sitting room chair or a set of cutlery.

Jon Turner

Senior Welfare Rights Officer (Mental Health)

15 January 2001

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