When new legislation led to changes in how emergency financial support was administered, the Welsh Government took the opportunity to rethink how it supported people who needed help.
Responsibility for community care grants and crisis loans was transferred to local authorities and devolved administrations in 2013. A new approach was required, and the Welsh Government needed to find the right partner to deliver it.
Northgate Public Services was chosen to administer a new Discretionary Assistance Fund in partnership with Wrexham County Borough Council and Family Fund Trading Ltd, the trading arm of a UK-wide charity that supports families with severely disabled children.
Between April 2013 and December 2015, over 125,000 applications from across the country were assessed against the same criteria, with people signposted to other agencies for support if their application was unsuccessful. People can now apply online, by telephone or by post for emergency assistance payments or individual assistance payments, such as grants for domestic appliances. Successful applications for emergency assistance are paid within 24 hours and individual assistance support provided within 10 days.
The introduction of the emergency assistance payment marked a significant change in the way the funding was allocated. Previously, funding was administered as a loan but results from a 2012 consultation lead to a different approach:
"Emergency funding used to be a crisis loan, which I understand was deducted from people's benefits over time. After considering the consultation responses, we decided that loans were an added burden for people who may already be in debt, so now they are payments. The individual assistance payment provides household goods to support eesettlement into the community. So, for example, this can support people who are homeless and moving into accommodation, prison leavers or people fleeing domestic violence and who need goods. It covers things like cookers or fridges."
Chris Gittins, head of the financial inclusion unit,
People can apply for the fund online, by telephone and by post. For the individual assistance payments, successful applicants are notified by letter of their entitlement and their goods are then delivered and installed for them. For the emergency assistance payments, successful applicants are notified by text message and they can then go to allocated pay-points to withdraw the money. A close relationship between the Welsh Government and Northgate Public Services has been essential.
"The assessments are done by Northgate Public Services; they look at the applications, question them when they need to, and come to a decision based on the Welsh government guidelines. We meet with them on a monthly basis to discuss progress. "
The Welsh government has now awarded the contract to Northgate Public Services to administer £8.4m in DAF ayments for a third year (2015-16). The next step is to build on the partnerships the fund has with other organisations, both in the third and public sectors, as Chris explains:
"While we recognise many partner organisations are busy and may have limited resources, we have been keen to stress that the DAF is a potential source of support for somebody coming through their door. Therefore, they could help by either signposting them to DAF or supporting them with an application."
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