People on low incomes face a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing emergency support via the Scottish Government's welfare fund.
Some of the country’s poorest people in desperate need of crisis grants and emergency financial help for care are being turned down because councils are applying different rules to distributing funds, new figures show.
The Scottish Welfare Fund was launched by the Scottish Government on 1 April last year to replace community care grants and crisis grants, which were abolished by the UK government under its welfare reform programme.
However statistics show that, in its first year, some local authorities turned down 67% of applicants while others managed to give support to nearly everyone who asked for it.
Overall the fund shows a £4m underspend despite thousands more people seeking emergency help from the likes of foodbanks as they struggle to cope with changes to the welfare system.
Grants totalling £29 million were handed out by the fund in 2013-14, amounting to 88% of the £33 million available.
It is essential that areas still seeing a significant underspend raise awareness of the fund, speed up the decision making process and make sure grants are accessible to families on the verge of crisis
Crisis grants, aimed at providing a safety net for people on benefits in the event of a disaster or an emergency, worth a total of £5.8 million were paid out last year. A further £23.1 million was paid out in community care grants, which go to help people with disabilities live independently.
Across the country, however, there are huge variations in the amounts individaul councils are giving out. Aberdeenshire shows the lowest acceptance rate for community care grants at just 33% while Dumfries and Galloway isn’t much better at 42%.
Figures for crisis grants show Falkirk and West Lothian awarding the least at 59% respectively when Perth and Kinross managed to accept 88% of applications.
Campaigners say the statistics prove the fund needs overhauled and that local authorities must do more to promote it to those most in need.
|Dumfries and Galloway|
For 2013/14 Dumfries and Galloway was allocated £430,012 to spend on Community Care Grants. During the year it received 1,882 applications of which 789 were approved (42%). The Scottish average approval rate was 62%.
A council spokesman explained to TFN: "The majority of refusals were due to applicants not meeting the eligibility criteria."
However he added: "Despite the number of approvals being lower than the Scottish average the total amount spent was £438,045 which actually exceeded our allocated spend.
"For 2014/15 the level of approvals and spend continues to increase, as at the end of June the approval rate is 46% with total spend 27% of the overall allocation."
John Dickie head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland said: “These statistics show big variations from one local authority to the next and it is essential that those areas that are still seeing a significant underspend consider what they can do to raise awareness of the fund, speed up the decision making process and make sure grants are as accessible as possible to families on the verge of crisis, wherever they happen to live.”
Florence Burke, director of Carers Trust Scotland, said the figures revealed an “alarming disparity”.
She added: “There needs to be consistency in the guidance and criteria for applying, as well as sound reasoning behind the decision process, particularly when applications are being denied.
“The local authorities that show significant underspend should also be doing more to promote the existence of the fund to people within their communities.”
Jackie Baillie, Labour's welfare spokeswoman, said the figures provide further evidence that the government is "completely inept" at getting resources to the people who are desperate.
“Not nearly enough is being done to support the most vulnerable people in our society and, with more than 12% of the budget left unspent, the Scottish Government must do more to ensure that support is given to those who need it most.”
The Scottish Government said about half the cash that was paid out had gone to people in Scotland's most deprived areas.
"The funding is reaching those in the most deprived areas of Scotland, with around 50% being awarded to applicants living in the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland," said a spokesman.
"It is absolutely imperative that vulnerable people in Scotland are protected and supported during these tough economic times.
“Welfare is a reserved matter, but we will do everything we can to make sure that people are being helped during their time of need.”
|Lowest % awarded for crisis grants||Lowest % awarded for community care|
|West Lothian: 59%||Aberdeenshire: 33%|
|Falkirk: 59%||Dumfries&Galloway: 42%|
|Midlothian: 63%||Angus: 50%|
|Dumfries&Galloway: 63%||North Ayrshire: 56%|
|Clackmananshire: 64%||Dundee City: 57%|