Memorandum submitted by South Lanarkshire
Council (SF 31)
1. Funeral Payments.
1.1 Exclusion of "responsible persons"
Regulations which exclude those who have accepted
responsibility for the cost of the funeral from receiving a payment
if other family members are not in receipt of benefits or are
not estranged can cause significant hardship. South Lanarkshire
Council believe that they should be amended.
1.2 Amount of payment
The sums awarded towards the cost of a funeral
are mostly inadequate. South Lanarkshire Council believe that
Social Fund payments should meet the full cost of a simple funeral.
1.3 Capital rules
South Lanarkshire Council believe that the capital
limits should be brought into line with those which apply to Income
Support or should be abolished altogether.
2. Regulatory Social Fund. Sure Start Maternity
2.1 South Lanarkshire Council welcome the
increase in awards of the Sure Start Maternity payments. However,
South Lanarkshire Council believe that the capital rules should
be brought in line with those which apply to Income Support or
3. Discretionary Social Fund. Community Care
South Lanarkshire Council believe that in order
to meet the needs of vulnerable people in the community, Community
Care Grants (CCGs) should be considered for those on low income
who are not in receipt of Income Support/Income Based Jobseeker's
3.2 Decision Making
South Lanarkshire Council believe that there
is an inherent difficulty for appropriate officers in attempting
to exercise discretion when making decisions on CCG applications
within the constraints of a budget and that there should be a
substantial increase in the CCG budget. There is also concern
about the consistency of decisions.
3.3 Applications to the fund
South Lanarkshire Council are concerned at the
significant decrease in the number of applications for Community
Care Grants since the separation of applications for grants and
4. Budgeting Loans
4.1 Budgetary principles
The view was expressed that the cost of important
intermittent expenses should be met by way of grants rather than
It was considered that claimants on low income
who are not in receipt of Income Support/IBJSA may require assistance
in budgeting for intermittent expenses and that the eligibility
criteria could be extended to other claimants on low incomes.
South Lanarkshire Council believe that the weighting
system draws arbitrary distinctions between claimants in receipt
of the same benefit, and can result in considerable hardship for
5. Crisis loans
5.1 Concerns were raised at some of the
practice issues which arise in relation to crisis loan applications.
1. South Lanarkshire Council's Money Matters
Advice Service deals with welfare rights and debt related enquiries
through eight offices across the Council. In the period April
1999 to March 2000 the service received 45,310 enquiries 2118
of which were Social Fund related. In addition staff based within
the six Social Work area teams, deal with Social Fund enquiries
on a daily basis.
2. Members of staff have raised a number
concerns regarding the role of the Social Fund and its operation
in practice. These relate both to the Discretionary and the Regulatory
Social Funds and are explored in the following paragraphs.
3. Funeral Payments (Regulatory Social Fund)
3.1 South Lanarkshire Council are concerned
that the rules which exclude a "responsible person"
from receiving a payment towards the cost of a funeral even though
they have accepted liability for that cost and entered into a
contract with the funeral director together with the restrictions
on the amounts awarded for the cost of a funeral frequently
result in hardship for claimants.
3.2 The rules which prohibit applicants
from qualifying for a funeral payment where other immediate members
of the deceased's family are neither estranged from the deceased
nor in receipt of specified benefit can be a source of particular
3.3 In one example the claimant, who was
the son of the deceased, had accepted responsibility for his mother's
funeral, which cost £1000. The application was refused on
the grounds that his sister, who was in full time low paid employment,
was in equally close contact with the deceased and received no
specified benefits. The applicant's sister refused to pay the
cost of the funeral. As her compliance was not enforceable and
as he was liable for the cost of the funeral the claimant was
left with a debt of £1000.
3.4 In another example the difficulty for
decision makers in adjudicating on the meaning of estrangement
was highlighted. The applicant, who was the daughter of the deceased,
accepted responsibility for the funeral and was in receipt of
a qualifying benefit. Her brothers had all moved to London following
a dispute with their mother, and were in full time employment.
None of them attended the funeral. The Decision Maker did not
accept that the brothers in London were estranged from the deceased.
The claimant, unable to compel her brothers to meet any of the
costs, was left with a substantial debt.
3.5 The third example highlights an anomaly
within the criteria relating to the treatment of a claimant as
a "responsible person". The mother of a UK worker who
died in a state of the European Economic Area was refused benefit
to cover the cost of her son's funeral there. Regulations allow
a claimant who is a worker for the purposes of EC regulations
to claim for a funeral that takes place in an EEA state, yet denies
these rights to a UK citizen whose son dies abroad.
3.6 These examples illustrate the hardship
that can arise as a result of the regulations governing eligibility
and the amount of payment.
3.7 The requirement for Decision Makers
to pass qualitative judgements (ie: whether a relative is estranged
from the deceased or whether one person had equal or closer contact
with the deceased than another) when the person best able to comment
is no longer alive, appears anomalous.
3.8 It is accepted that family members should
share responsibility following the death of their relative. However
the assumption underlying the regulations, that those family members
whose circumstances exclude the claimant from being eligible will
foot a bill which they are not liable to meet out of good will,
is not borne out in reality. The consequence of a decision excluding
a claimant from receiving a payment may leave the poorest member
of a family with a substantial debt.
3.9 South Lanarkshire Council believe
that regulations concerning the "responsible person"
are cumbersome, resulting in financial hardship, and should be
3.10 Amount of benefit. Members of staff
advise that owing to the restriction on the amount which can be
awarded, or the types of expenses which can be claimed by claimants,
the full cost of the funeral is rarely met.
3.11 Local funeral directors have advised
that the average cost of a simple funeral is usually in excess
of £1000 but that awards from the Social Fund rarely exceed
£900. Quite apart from those who have accepted responsibility
for the cost of the funeral but have been refused a payment owing
to the regulations already discussed, it would appear that most
benefit claimants have to meet some shortfall either from other
sources or through reaching a repayment agreement with the funeral
3.12 One Money Matters office spoke of a
local funeral director who contacted them seeking advice because
of the amount of debt he now had to deal with. Another funeral
director voiced his concern that claimants were in some instances
submitting appeals against decisions on the amount of benefit
awarded (with little prospect of success) so as to delay the need
to make arrangements regarding the debt.
3.13 South Lanarkshire Council believe
that the Social Fund should meet the full cost of a simple funeral.
3.14 The capital rules, whereby any award
is reduced by every pound of the claimant's capital in excess
of £500 (£1000 for those over 60) may lead to claimants
paying substantial amounts towards the cost of a funeral even
though they are on means tested benefits where the capital limits
are far higher.
3.15 A claimant on Income Support with capital
of £2000 would be expected to meet the full cost of a £1,200
funeral thereby reducing his capital to £800. As the death
of a close relative/friend is an event over which a claimant has
no control and for which he had not planned it appears unduly
punitive to require the claimant to use his savings for that purpose.
3.16 South Lanarkshire Council believe
that the capital limits for funeral payment should be brought
into line with those which apply to Income Support/IBJSA or should
be abolished altogether.
4. Sure Start Maternity Grant (Regulatory
4.1 South Lanarkshire Council welcome the
increase in the amount of the Sure Start Maternity Grant to £300
from Autumn 2000. However the increased amount may yet remain
inadequate to meet all the costs associated with a new child.
South Lanarkshire Council are concerned that modest savings, which
a claimant may have accumulated to help towards the start of costs
of a new child, should impact on an award pound for pound at such
a low level.
4.2 South Lanarkshire Council believe
that the capital limit of £500 should be raised in line with
Income Support or abolished altogether.
5. Community Care Grants (Discretionary Social
5.1 Many claimants whose income is just
above their applicable amount (for example those with a small
occupational pension, or in receipt of Incapacity Benefit) may
be vulnerable people needing help to stay in the community but
are unable to meet the cost of items arising at times of special
5.2 It is the view of South Lanarkshire
Council that eligibility should be extended to include other claimants
on low income.
5.3 South Lanarkshire Council support the
principles underlying Community Care Grants; namely that they
are intended to help vulnerable people live as independently as
possible in the community by assisting them when faced with difficulty
as a result of special circumstances.
5.4 However statistics regarding the success
rate of CCG applications indicate that many who believe themselves
to be facing difficulty as a result of special circumstances are
not held to be so by the BenefitsAgency. Different Money Matters
offices report that decisions resulting in awards on initial applications
range from 50% to 25% of those applications. National statistics
indicate decisions resulting in awards as 34% of all CCG applications
in 99/00. (in 98/00 the figure was 19% of CCG applications) This
is a small number, representing only 218,620 awards of grants
from a total of 3,617,000 applications to the fund as a whole.
5.5 South Lanarkshire Council are of the
view that it is very difficult for appropriate officers to exercise
discretion in individual cases whilst working within budgetary
constraints. There is also concern regarding the consistency of
decision-making and difficulties in some claimants obtaining awards
who on the face of it appear to satisfy Direction 4 and have a
high priority need.
5.6 Two Money Matters offices recently reported
difficulties encountered by families fleeing domestic violence
who were refused Community Care Grants to furnish their new tenancies
on the grounds that they failed to satisfy Direction 4.
5.7 National statistics
confirm that the majority of CCG refusals (66.1% of all refusals)
are due to the claimant's failure to satisfy Direction 4. South
Lanarkshire Council are concerned that there are many more people
who satisfy the criteria for CCGs than are awarded benefit, and
that appropriate officer's discretion is fettered by budget considerations.
5.8 South Lanarkshire Council believe therefore
that there should be a substantial increase in the budget for
5.9 South Lanarkshire Council is concerned
at amendments introduced by the Social Security Act 1998 whereby
applications are no longer treated as applications to the fund
as a whole. It is our view that this may disadvantage many unrepresented
claimants who may be deterred from claiming grants and turn to
loans instead. This is confirmed by national statistics
indicating that the number of CCG applications almost halved between
1998/99 and 1999/00 and that the number of overall loan applications
increased by 40% during that time.
5.10 Staff are also unaware of any circumstances
where information contained in a loan application led to the claimant
being invited to claim a CCG as envisaged in the Social Fund Guidance.
5.11 South Lanarkshire Council are
of the view that applications should be treated as applications
to the fund as a whole
Reviews. Some concern has been expressed
at the delays which may be involved in the review process. Some
staff report delays of 10-12 weeks in processing reviews, which
compounds the hardship experienced by claimants.
6. Budgeting Loans (Discretionary Social
6.1 It is the view of some staff that a
loan system for claimants who are already on the breadline causes
hardship and can result in almost persistent indebtedness. Because
of this some believe that the loan system should be abolished
and replaced with a grant-based system.
6.2 South Lanarkshire Council believe
that entitlement to budgeting loans should be extended to other
claimants in receipt of low income who may experience considerable
difficulty in budgeting for certain expenses.
6.3 Staff view the weighting system as being
unfair. The distinction between clients in receipt of benefit
over different periods of time appears arbitrary. In one example
a 17-year-old girl moving into her first tenancy applied for a
budgeting loan of £1000 to cover the cost of furniture etc.
She was awarded a loan of just over £200. (She did not satisfy
the criteria for a CCG)
6.4 Repayments to the Social Fund
are, on average, £9.00 per week with some claimants agreeing
to higher repayments in order to secure larger loans. This debt
in turn eats into the claimant's ability to meet routine weekly
costs, such as food and heating.
6.5 Because the criteria used for deciding
eligibility for a Budgeting Loan is now largely automated there
is little right of review against adverse decisions. Claimants
experience considerable frustration in being unable to challenge
the amount of the award, and, because they are unlikely to be
awarded a CCG, seek other means of paying for the items which
7. Crisis Loans (Discretionary Social Fund)
7.1 A number of issues regarding BA practice
were raised in relation to Crisis Loans. These included the following:
BA staff were deterring clients from
claiming crisis loans on the grounds that they would not be awarded
Claimants being referred to other
agencies (ie Social Work) for assistance.
Particular problems in relation to
lost and missing giros.
8. South Lanarkshire have concerns regarding
many aspects of the Social Fund, its role and operation in practice.
It is hoped that through highlighting some of the difficulties
experienced locally we will have been of some assistance to the
Committee in their inquiry.
31 Annual Report by the Secretary of State for Social
Security on the Social Fund 1999-2000. Back