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.
Senior Welfare Rights Officer (Mental Health)
15 January 2001