Little is as frustrating for social work staff as coping with the inefficiencies of other agencies. From my days as a social worker, I can remember the hours spent chasing up “missing” giros and order books, only to run out of time at 4pm and then having to start all over again with the Department of Health and Social Security emergency payments team.
One of the greatest misconceptions that DHSS staff had was that all local authority social work teams had some kind of emergency fund of their own, which we could use to tide over any claimant until the office re-opened. Explaining our limited role under children’s legislation and pointing out that we could not financially support older people or those with mental or physical health problems and so on was a regular feature of our liaison meetings.
Years later, many of the same problems still bedevil the relationship between the DHSS’s successor, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and social work teams.
The DWP’s out of hours (Oohs) emergency payment service is supposedly available to customers who urgently need money outside office hours. The payments are made by a DWP official known as a local emergency officer (LEO). Do social workers know who the LEOs are in their area?
If a customer needs an Oohs payment, they are supposed to contact the local central emergency officer either directly if the number is available to the public or through a referral agent such as social services departments (social work departments in Scotland), police, hospital, housing departments and the Samaritans, which are acting on the customer’s behalf. If the central emergency officer decides an Oohs payment may be appropriate, they ask an LEO to visit the customer.
Some councils and police do not take part in the Oohs scheme. If a customer approaches a local authority that does not take part in the scheme, they will give the customer the central emergency officer’s emergency contact number.
LEOs can make Oohs payments in an emergency only and have to take into account the circumstances of each customer when deciding whether they should make a payment and what type of payment to make.
They can make interim payments of pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and social fund crisis loans. They cannot replace missing national insurance benefits.
Recently, the DWP sent out information about LEOs and pension credit. It says that it may make interim payments of pension credit if the customer has applied for it but the decision maker cannot decide the award immediately or it cannot be paid immediately. According to the DWP, it can also make payment if the customer has not applied for pension credit, or has applied for it but in an incorrect manner, and it is not possible for a proper application to be made immediately.
An Oohs payment is paid to the customer in cash but the money will be recovered from future payments.
So, now that you know your central emergency officers from your LEOs, obtaining emergency payments should be a piece of cake.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care.