Welfare Reform Targeted Support Scheme Evaluation Report June 2014

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1 Welfare Reform Targeted Support Scheme Evaluation Report June 2014 The Welfare Reform Targeted Support Scheme was created by City of York Council after it received 35,000 from central government to support people with the effects of welfare reform. The funding was a one off, fixed amount and had to be spent by 31 March They used this money to create the scheme which provided one off grants of up to 500 (with discretion for a further 100) to customers affected by welfare reforms in order to improve their overall financial position. To apply for a grant from the scheme customers had to already be receiving advice or support and applications needed to come from the supporting organisation on the customer s behalf. It was expected that the grant would be one small part of an overall action plan to secure the longer term financial security of the customer in question. There was anecdotal evidence of how valuable the scheme had been and from this it was decided to do a follow up evaluation with those who had received grants, in order to learn from the implementation of the scheme and influence future provision. The Scheme 100 grants were awarded, with an average payment of Below is a break down of the main reasons for these grants. It is clear that the major reason people required the grant was to do with debt, suggesting that one of the significant impacts of Welfare Reform is debt. Reasons For Grant Rent arrears Debt Relief Order Gas & Electricity Water Bankruptcy Former Tenancy Arrears Furniture Council Tax Legal Loan TV license Living expenses White Goods Rubbish Removal Clothes Budgeting & crisis loan Housing Benefit Overpayment Help to move Bus Permit bond guarantee debt Fuel oil Plumbing of Washing Machine Applications were received from 13 supporting agencies. The largest agency to refer customers was York CAB, closely followed by CYC Money and Employment Advisers. 1

2 Referred by Citizens Advice Bureau Money and Employment Advisors (CYC Housing) York Housing Association Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust Children Services Peasholme Charity Yorkshire Housing Castlegate Foundation Pathway CYC Support Workers (Housing) CYC parenting & mentoring service Scarcroft The Survey Surveys were sent out by City of York Council to all 100 grant recipients and the evaluation has been carried out by Advice York. We received 15 responses, a response rate of 15%. The information below gives the profile of respondents. Just under half (4) of those surveyed had a disability or long term health condition. The largest household type was single people, accounting for 33%. This is not surprising as single people have been hit by most welfare reforms; where as other household types have been protected from certain elements. 73% had an extremely low income of less than 600. Almost half were people who had been unable to work due to disability or sickness. Monthly Household Income % 6% Houshold Type 2 33% 13% 6% 33% Under 400 per month Prefer not to say Couple Couple and child/ children 19+ Couple and child/children under 18 Single Single person and child/children 19+ Single person and child/children under 18 Employment 13% 46% 13% Disability/ Long Term Health Condition 33% 20% 13% 2 Carer-elderly/disabled Employed under 30 hours Looking after children Not working due to disability/sickness Retired Unemployed Prefer not to say Mental Health Problem More than one of these Other physical impairment Prefer not to say Not diabled 2

3 Impacts of Welfare Reform As the aim of the scheme was to help with the impact of welfare reform, the survey asked what welfare reforms had affected people and how. Most people who responded had been affected by the introduction of the Council Tax Support scheme, which has replaced Council Tax Benefit. This reflects the nature of the City of York Council Scheme whereby all working age households are expected to pay a minimum contribution of 30% of their bill. Four grants were awarded directly to pay Council Tax arrears and several people were given grants for Debt Relief Orders that included Council Tax debts. The removal of the spare room subsidy (also known as the Bedroom Tax ) had the second largest impact, affecting 53% of respondents. Again this is reflected in the grants given out as 35 grants were awarded for rent arrears. Evidence from Citizens Advice nationally shows 62% of clients advised about the new housing benefit restrictions with social landlords are disabled or have long-term health problems (October 2013). This highlights how disabled people are being disproportionately hit by the bedroom tax introduced in April 2013, which restricts housing benefit if the claimant is deemed to have a spare room. This is supported by our survey; with almost half of respondents having a disability or long term health condition. What Welfare Reforms Have you Been Affected by? Under-occupation rules /Bedroom Tax 11 Council Tax Support 8 Benefit Cap Reduction in housing benefit due to your age (Under 35) Reduction in housing benefit due to the local housing allowance Sanctions Changes to Employment Support Allowance Other please give detail People told us welfare reform is having a number of effects on them and their family. The greatest impact on them is difficulty paying bills, with 8 saying this was a problem for them. Over half (56%) the grants awarded were to provide help to people with their bills such as rent, electricity and water. This is a worrying sign that people are unable to maintain essential living costs as the consequence of not doing so can be severe. Extremely worryingly two thirds also said that the welfare reforms had affected their ability to buy food. One person highlighted how they were simply struggling to make ends meet. These impacts clearly show how there was a need for the scheme. 3

4 The reforms are having a great impact on peoples mental health, 80% of people said the effects of the reforms had also caused them stress and worry. How was this affecting you and your family? 1 Other-please give details 8 Homelessness Build up of debt Causing stress /worry Worsening health Difficulty in finding work Relationship problems Diffifulty affording food 13 Difficulty paying bills The Help Received We asked people to tell us about what they thought about the help they received and what difference the help had made to their situation. There was a very good response to the scheme, 84% gave a positive response about the help they received, with over half (53%) saying the help was brilliant. Three quarters went on to give further comments about the help they had received. People were particularly complementary of the advice and support they received from the referring agency, with one explaining how it meant she was able to eat: Jess really helped me claim what I was entitled to with benefits and reduction in rent. She also helped me access the foodbank while this was going on so I could eat How was the help? Brilliant Could be better Good enough Everyone went out of their way to help as much as possible If it wasn't for you we would starve or be on the streets 2 53% Very poor Temporary relief on financial situation 6% Prefer not to say Fast decision and friendly staff 4

5 40% of respondents had there problem completely solved as a result of the grant and a further third had their problem partly sorted out. This reflects the nature of the grants which were intended to be part of a wider range of support and means almost three quarters had a positive outcome to their problem. Only one person felt that nothing had changed and nothing was going to be done. What has happened as a result of the help? 6% 40% My problem has been completely sorted out My problem has been partly sorted out My problem is not sorted, because I'm waiting My situation has got worse but I know what to do 33% Nothing has changed and nothing is being done Prefer not to say Problem was completely sorted out When asked what had changed as a result of the help two thirds said they had now got their debts under control and had an increased income because of this. This indicates strong improvement in health and wellbeing as the impacts of problem debt on the individual can be severe. In-depth research conducted by the Legal Services Research Centre suggests 89% of debt clients worried about their problems most or all of the time. Around 43% of clients felt their health had suffered to some extent, while around 60% said they had received treatment, medication or counseling as a result of their problems. Further, it was identified that problem debt can impact on an individual s relationships, employment, education and plans for the future. 1 People felt that the help received had made a huge contribution to solving their problem and 83% felt their problem could not have been solved without the help. This shows that the grant payments made a huge difference and were fundamental to the outcomes achieved. Two thirds also mentioned the help that got elsewhere that helped to solve the problem; these were all support agencies such as York CAB, City of York Benefit Advisers and Support Workers from a number of organisations and demonstrates the need for and value of ongoing funding for advice and support agencies. I have moved from a small bedsit into a lovely flat in sheltered accommodation. My environment is very much improved. I am now claiming ESA and PIP. My debts are cleared and I can manage my finance well 1 A Helping Hand: the Impact of Debt Advice on People s Lives. Legal Services Research Centre, Available at: 5

6 How important was the help you recieved? 1 I could not have sorted my problem without I would have starved over winter The help was fairly important to sorting 83% Problem was not completely sorted out There were two main reasons given for their problem not being fully solved. The first was simply an issue of timing and that they were still looking for a property or waiting for further advice. The second reason is more worrying. Although people said the immediate problem was solved, they said due to the nature of Welfare Reform long-term issues continued. This was particularly focused on the Bedroom Tax and the fact that people s incomes are too low to afford their ongoing additional rent payments and they are unable to secure suitable alternative accommodation. Food is one thing, but the bedroom tax is another Unfortunately this indicates that people may get into debt again and is reflected in York CAB figures which show a 120% increase in the number of people with social housing rent arrears with a since the Bedroom Tax was introduced. Despite the problem not being completely sorted out, many still spoke of a positive change and how they are continuing to receive support. All knew what they needed to do next and felt they had the support in place to do this. Again the focus was on debts being more manageable. My complex issues are interlinked. The grant provided temporary relief and eased a family dispute about payment owed. However, my income is too low to afford 25% underoccupancy penalty We ate My benefits are now being paid at a lower rate my debts are still being dealt with but I am paying my rent arrears along with each week. I find it hard but don't want to lose my home. I am continuing to work with benefit and money advisers. The grant provided me with temporary relief of my debt problem. I have reclaimed DHP, bidding for housing and now doing budgeting work. 6

7 Affect on health an well-being The scheme has clearly had benefits for the recipient s health and wellbeing, with 60% reporting a positive change in peace of mind and well being. A number talked of additional welfare benefits they now received as a result of the advice and support that was needed to be eligible for the grant. Additional take-up of welfare benefits can make a considerable contribution to improving the financial situation of a household; deliver an increase in living standards and a reduction in deprivation and poverty experienced. 2 Financial gains have also been linked with health benefits. An increase in income was associated with a decrease in bodily pain at six months and improvements in psychosocial health at twelve months. 3 40% reported an increase in their health and comfort. On the whole, most people saw an increase in key health and well being indicators after the support. This was particularly the case for an increased knowledge about how things work, with 60% reporting a positive improvement. Just under half (4) also told us about positive improvements in their ability to manage bills and their confidence. These results indicate that they may be more able to help themselves with problems arising in the future, which 53% acknowledged they were now more able to do. The one of grant has therefore resulted in long term change and improvements for recipients. Health and Well Being A lot better Better No difference Worse Prefer not to say Confidence Ability to manage bills Peace of mind and wellbeing Health and Comfort Relationships Knowledge about how things work Ability to help self We also looked at mental well being for the recipients by using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). This is a validated scale for assessing mental wellbeing in the adult population used by health researchers across the UK. As we were unable to ask the questions before the grant and support was given, we asked that people evaluate whether there had been an improvement. 2 The benefits of welfare rights advice: a review of the literature, National Association of Welfare Rights Advisors, Available at: 3 A Helping Hand: the Impact of Debt Advice on People s Lives. Legal Services Research Centre, Available at: 7

8 Mental Well-being (WEMWBS) A lot more More No difference Less Prefer not to say I've been feeling I've been feeling optimistic about useful the future I've been feeling I've been dealing relaxed with problems well I've been thinking clearly I've been feeling close to other people I've been able to make my own mind up about things Although a number reported that there had been no difference to their mental well being, this reflects the ongoing effects of Welfare Reform changes on people s lives. Despite this, over a half (53%) said they now felt more optimistic about the future and 4 were more relaxed and able to think more clearly. Conclusion When asked if there was anything else they wanted to say a number of people gave their thanks for the grant and support they received. However, one mentioned how it was just a drop in the ocean. This is very good reflection of the scheme as a whole. It has clearly helped a large number of people helping them not only financially, but significantly improving health and well being. Still under stress - a drop in the ocean Whilst people said they felt more confident in dealing with their issues as a result of the help they received, the affect it has had has been limited by the ongoing nature of some Welfare Reforms such as Council Tax Support and the Bedroom Tax which those on a low income do not feel able to pay. This report has shown that Welfare Reform has resulted in an increase in debt, stress, worry and extremely troublingly, that some have now had difficultly paying for the basics such as food. The support provided through the City of York Council Scheme has been particularly helpful for people in debt. Advice and support, plus fast flexible grant funding made a real difference to people experiencing poverty as a result of welfare reforms; the benefits were clearly demonstrated by the responses received. A big thank you It is recommended that there is increased support for both debt advice and financial support for York residents dealing with the impacts of welfare reforms and debt; that statutory and voluntary sector organisations seek and prioritise opportunities and existing funding to continue to provide the support offered through the scheme. 8

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