Farewell to welfare?

Friday, 31 October 2014 - 1:51pm

With uncertainty over the future of Local Welfare Assistance, you can contribute to the Government's consultation and help shape where next for this vital safety net. 

Photograph: Andrew Skudder (Flickr)
Photograph: Andrew Skudder (Flickr)

In January 2012 Homeless Link and 11 other charities wrote to the Times newspaper expressing concerns around Government plans to “localise” key parts of the Social Fund. We pointed out that for decades, Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants had provided the ultimate safety net for the most vulnerable in society”.

Nonetheless, in April 2013 these benefits were abolished by DWP and more than £170m was added to local authority funding to set up of Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes in their place. A number of elements about this decision worried us: the fact that the money was not ring-fenced; there would be no monitoring of its expenditure by central government; councils could apply whichever local connection rules they wished; the money would sit entirely with upper-tier authorities when housing was the preserve of lower-tier councils in non-unitary authorities.

We were worried that this “ultimate safety net” might no longer be available to those experiencing homelessness.

Eighteen months on, the picture is a mixed, disjointed one. Some councils have worked in partnership to join-up their LWA schemes with local support providers to maximise the effectiveness of help given to people. In contrast, other areas have reported that assistance is either extremely difficult to access or non-existent. We know from discussions with local authorities that many are still navigating their way around this new area of responsibility and the best ones are learning from experience.

With so much discussion around LWA, it was a shock when last Christmas some eagle-eyed analysts noticed that the £178m given to councils to enable them to fund LWA had been removed from April 2015 Treasury expenditure. This had not been announced publicly and, despite no mention of this in the consultation documents of 2010 and 2011, the Government subsequently argued that the funding had only ever been intended for the current financial year.

In response, judicial review proceedings were proposed to ‘test’ the legality of this. Instead of contesting this case, the Government committed to a new consultation on the future of this funding. It is vital that as many people respond to this consultation as possible. 

You can submit evidence for the Homeless Link response by sending your thoughts to paul.anderson@homelesslink.org.uk by 14 November 2014. We are particularly interested in examples of good LWA schemes which maybe under threat if funding is withdrawn, as well as any evidence of localised systems which have proved difficult for clients to access. If you wish to respond yourself the details are here.

The attached guidance provides some of our thoughts on the options outlined by DWP for future arrangements.