Practical tips on how to support families
The £20 cut to universal credit represents the biggest single cut to social security since World War II and is happening at the same time as food and heating costs are rising. It is inevitable that families will struggle to stretch their shrinking budgets – so what can you do to help?
Evidence from our Early Warning System shows that parents are often anxious about telling people they have money worries, which may mean that they do not seek help and support. A family may be more likely to open up to someone they already work with and trust, rather than someone they have never met before. This is why it is important that anyone working with families feels confident talking about money worries and can help families make contact with the help and support they need. You do not have to be a benefit expert to do this.
Help to increase incomes
It is important to make sure families are claiming everything they are entitled to. For example families who are getting universal credit often don’t know to claim council tax reduction to help with their council tax too. They might be missing out on free school meals and school clothing grants. There is a list of all the different benefits that families might be entitled to in the factsheet, Financial Help in the Early Years. Further detail is available in the What You Need to Know Guide: Financial Help for Families.
Advice services, such as Citizens Advice and welfare rights services, can check a family is receiving everything that they are entitled to and provide support to claim new benefits and challenge any benefit decisions that might be wrong.
Help in a crisis
If a family needs money quickly, they can apply for a Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grant from their local authority. Normally you can only get a maximum of three crisis grants in a 12 months period (six if you are in a couple and both apply), but in exceptional circumstances more grants can be given. For example, if the crisis was caused or made worse by the pandemic, this could count as exceptional circumstances. The grants to do not have to be paid back.
If you are refused a crisis grant, you can ask a local authority to review its decision. If you are not happy with the outcome you can ask for an independent review to be carried out by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
Help to pay the rent
If a family is struggling to pay their rent, they can apply to the local authority for a discretionary housing payment if they are getting housing benefit or help to pay their rent through universal credit. The local authority has discretion whether or not to pay, how much to pay and over what period.
If a family is falling behind with their rent if it is important to get advice. Shelter Scotland can give practical advice, tell families their rights and link up with specialist or local services if needed.
Help to pay for heating
If a family is on a low income or receives certain benefits they may be entitled to help with fuel costs eg. electricity and gas. They may be able to get energy assistance or reduced energy bills. Contact Home Energy Scotland for more details about what families might be eligible for.
If a family includes a severely disabled child they can get child winter heating assistance.
Help from the local authority social work department
Families may be able to get help from the local authority social work department. The local authority has powers under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 that allow it to help people in need. Help can be given in cash or ‘in kind’ for example, vouchers to buy food. Often the social work department will want to establish whether alternative help, such as the crisis grant, is available before they will help. They may refer to a local foodbank rather than providing any direct help.
Help from charities
Families may be able to get some assistance from a charity, although this may be more likely to help with specific items (for example, furniture or fuel bills) than provide immediate financial help. Which charity to approach can depend on personal circumstances, such as a having a particular health problem or having worked in a particular job.
You can do a grant search at Turn to Us.
Please tell us
The Early Warning System will be monitoring the impact of the £20 cut on children and their families. Please let us know how the families you are working with are managing. You can submit anonymised case studies online or email them to [email protected]. We will use this case evidence to continue to press for a reversal of the cut and for the development of social security policy that will contribute to reducing rather than increasing poverty. More details of our policy calls can be found here