Agenda item

Local Welfare Assistance Scheme


The Cabinet considered a report by the Head of Business Processes, referred to it for further consideration.  Attached to the report was:


·  Local Welfare Assistance Scheme Scrutiny Review (Appendix 1); and

·  Wirral Local Welfare Assistance Scheme Policy 2015/16 (Appendix 2).


The report recommended that the Cabinet agree to the future Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. 


The Cabinet noted that the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme was, up until March 2015, directly funded by central government grant.  This had now been withdrawn by the Government with the recommendation that Local Authorities should consider funding future schemes from their general fund. 


The Cabinet was reminded that at its meeting on 10 February 2015, it had agreed, as part of its budget resolutions, that £900,000 would be held in a reserve for this fund following the Government’s decision to withdraw direct funding from 1 April 2015.  (Minute No. 136 refers.)


The Cabinet was informed that the current scheme was in place until 31 July 2015 and the Task and Finish Scrutiny Review Panel (Councillors Janette Williams, Tom Anderson, Phil Gilchrist, Paul Doughty, Mathew Patrick and Joe Walsh) had reviewed the position and its findings and recommendations were set out in Appendix 1 of the report and Appendix 2 set out how the scheme could be taken forward from 1 August 2015.


Councillor Janette Williamson, Chair of the Policy and Performance – Transformation and Resources Committee was in attendance at the meeting to make a presentation on the Local Welfare Assistance Scrutiny Review, an evidence day held on 9 April 2015 the Task and Finish Review Panel’s findings.


Councillor Janette Williamson informed that the Review Panel had met with a range of witnesses, including Council Officers and representatives from a number of third sector organisations.  Appropriate information had also been requested by the Review Panel to help develop the recommendations made in its final report. 


It was noted that it was not possible for some working people to make their money last and as a result they were using the Foodbank.  Wirral Foodbank had 14 outlets and currently people found out about it by word of mouth it was not widely publicised but the Citizen’s Advice Bureau was now telling people about it.


Following her presentation Councillor Janette Williamson was asked a number of questions by Cabinet Members which she duly answered. 


Cabinet Members agreed that this report was about people in desperate need and it was the result of some very good cross party working that would make a huge difference to the people of Wirral.  New ways of working had been adopted, the Council was building on the relationships it had made and had earmarked funding to help those in most need.  However, it was regrettable that a Council had to initiate such a project.  It had done so to offset the damage caused by the present Government.


The Cabinet agreed that this was an excellent example of the work that a Task and Finish Group could carry out.  It was hoped that the possibility of developing the Wirral Scheme could be considered in 2016.  This would help the Council to spread the money it had a lot further.  There may be a Welfare Summit meeting with all of the agencies involved.


The outcome of the review was the six recommendations set out in the report.




(1)  the contents and recommendations of the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme Task & Finish Scrutiny Review at Appendix 1 to the report be supported; 


(2)  the policy as outlined in Appendix 2 to the report as the Council’s Local Welfare Assistance Scheme for 2015/16 effective from 1 August 2015 which has the following amendments over the scheme in place to 31 July 2015 be approved:


(a)  Items of essential need will now exclude washing machines as an award provided from the scheme directly, except in exceptional circumstances, and referring these applications to Energy Projects Plus;


(b)  Referring applications for white goods which have been assessed as not meeting the Council’s criteria and where a potential fuel debt issue has been identified to Energy Projects Plus; and


(c)  The Emergency Utility Credit which is payable to British Gas customers who have fallen into debt and are on prepayment meters should be effectively promoted by the Council.  Applicants identified through the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme as being eligible should be signposted to Energy Projects Plus for an assessment and application to be made. 


(3)  further consideration be given to amending the scheme by reviewing and redefining other items that currently constitute an essential need with a view to excluding them from the scheme or reducing the circumstances in which they are provided;


(4)  officers be requested to explore the feasibility of referring successful applications for essential food to Wirral Foodbank, or any identified food bank that can service all of Wirral, with an appropriate donation being made from the remaining budget to help cover some operational costs.  Officers will determine how this is achieved to ensure that actual benefits can be identified and delivered and to ensure that the Council’s Contract Procedure Rules are complied with;


(5)  publicity and communication plans be reviewed to ensure there is take up and understanding of the scheme from all those who need it.  This should include a broadcast to partner agencies to provide an update on the key aspects of the scheme from 1st August 2015; 


(6)  a further review of the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme be supported as part of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee’s work programme for the 2016/17 Municipal Year.  The objective of the review will be to identify any strategies for providing local welfare assistance once the budget set aside for local welfare assistance has been depleted;


(7)  the Cabinet agrees to lobby Central Government against the withdrawal of Local Welfare Assistance Funding from April 2015 and the impact that this has on local communities;


(8)  the Scheme and its take up be reviewed after six months; and


(9)  the Leader be requested to make written representations to the Government, again, over the loss of the crisis loans. 


Councillor Phil Davies returned to the meeting and to the Chair.

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