Some JobCentres are placing unlawful restrictions on access to
Social Fund crisis loans for applicants who say they are victims of
theft, according to a report from the National Audit Office.
Applications without crime reference numbers are being refused
by some districts, while others automatically reject any applicants
who claim to have had money stolen on three or more occasions, says
“This introduces an additional burden of proof, which is not
defensible in law, but which staff may consider necessary for
control of fraud and error,” says the report.
Three per cent of districts will not allow applications in
person for crisis loans, while a further 14 per cent rarely allow
it. Applicants are asked to apply by phone, although an independent
review recently found that JobCentre phone lines are sometimes
engaged all day.
The NAO is calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to
end such “localised eligibility requirements” for the fund by
improving training and through the provision of guidance.
Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group,
said: “Shockingly, there is often poor understanding of the scheme
by those responsible for administering it, fuelled by local
discretion and poor training.
“If it is to protect families at their most vulnerable or in
crisis, the government must sort out the Social Fund once and for
The NAO also wants the DWP to do more to publicise the fund to
people on benefits and low incomes.
Only 47 per cent of the low-paid were aware of the fund, and
many turned to family, friends or commercial lenders. Pensioners
and people from ethnic minorities were under-represented among
Poor administration may also mean that some applicants are
wrongly refused loans. Errors were found in almost half of all
funeral payment and crisis loan applications and in a quarter of
community care grant forms.
More than one-third of applications for crisis loans were from
people awaiting payment of their first benefit cheque. The NAO says
that JobCentres should be making interim payments in such cases
rather than drawing on the “limited resources” of the Social