The rapid demise of local authority welfare assistance schemes, Universal Credit and complex need plans.

GMPA have produced an excellent report – “local welfare assistance schemes: the urgent need for a new approach” – weirdly enough talking about the urgent need for a new approach to local welfare assistance. Information wasn’t obtained in the case of 19 local authorities but nevertheless key findings include

Key findings include:

  • 22 local authorities don’t operate local welfare assistance schemes. GMPA estimates that this means 7.75 million people are living in areas where crisis support isn’t available.
  • A further 29 schemes are under threat, with local authorities having cut the budget for their schemes by two-thirds over the last three years or operating schemes on budgets of less than £100,000 a year.
  • The number of awards made through Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans was over 1.3 million in 2010/11 and over 700k in 2012/13 (the final year of the national scheme). This compares to a little over 161k successful applications for support through local welfare assistance schemes in 2017/18. This represents a fall in support of 88% between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
  • In Greater Manchester, spending on crisis support in 2017/18 was £3.8 million. This is over £15 million lower than spending under Crisis Loan and Community Care Grant provision in 2010/11. The number of successful applications for support through local schemes in Greater Manchester was 10,077 in 2017/18 compared to 123,220 Community Care Grants and Crisis Loan awards made in 2010/11.

The context for this decimation needs to be that, where an area has Universal Credit full service, complex needs plans may be referencing local welfare assistance which no longer exists. We don’t need to add anything to that do we! Well, there’s this we suppose.

Complex needs plans and They Work For You.

GMWRAG recently brought to your attention that we now have an account with WhatDoTheyKnow and after our first experience of using the account we have been casting about to see what we can do next. We now have an obvious answer.

Every JCP needs to create their own complex needs plan to support claimants with the aforesaid complex needs. These are based on templates produced by DWP but nevertheless show great variation. We understand that many local offices are insisting said documents are not publicly available, which seems rather bizarre as this is surely crying out to be a living document worked on in partnership. Equally we understand that these documents will be put into the public domain if an FOI request is submitted and Owen Stevens has been doing some fine work on this front down in Greenwich.

It’s interesting to read his experience that

“A common feature of all the complex needs plans is a list of local and national organisations relevant to particular groups that the JCP imagine may present with complex needs.  I’ve attached an example of the types of groups considered in one plan.

One or two of the plans seem not to involve much more than a list of signposting.

Most of the plans do include quite comprehensive signposting in each area. The lists are so comprehensive that it may be difficult for staff under time pressure to absorb all the information. Jobcentre may find it more useful to flag up a couple of key contacts before going on to list the more extensive signposting.

I can’t see that any of the plans I’ve looked at have included information about discretionary funds such as local welfare assistance, etc.

None of the plans seem to include a list of common problems (for example claim for terminally ill people, transferring ESA components to UC, etc).  It may be useful for complex needs plans to include a regularly updated list of problems, the correct process, and fixes for these problems.

We hope to set up an arrangement where the JCP can flag up complex needs to the local authority. If this progresses this arrangement could be set up in the complex needs plan.” …

“… I actually think that they have potential to be made into quite effective documents which could take a lot of pressure off the advice sector by enabling DWP to resolve problems before they ever reach us.

However, it’s clear that in their current form even the best of these documents leave quite a lot to be desired…”

“… I still get the impression that they remain very far from the kinds of documents that will enable work coaches to effectively support vulnerable claimants.”

GMWRAG heartily endorses both the approach and the views expressed by Owen to accompany them. What we would like members in the North West to do is to contact GMWRAG if you already have a copy of your complex needs plan and we’ll post them up here as a central repository of the up to date position in your area as well as (hopefully) examples of best practice.

If you don’t have a copy but would like to obtain one, again, please contact GMWRAG and we’ll do the hard miles and make the request for each of the JCPs in your area via WhatDoTheyKnow.