Poor denied access to crisis loans due to lack of national guidelines

    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
    the NAO.

    “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
    all.”

    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
    applicants.

    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
    Fund.

     

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