Support for benefit claimants in East Renfrewshire is set to be boosted as demand rises due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cabinet members on East Renfrewshire Council are being asked to back, in principle, spending around £330,000 over two years on money advice roles.
A council report reveals there is “potential for a considerable number of East Renfrewshire residents to be affected by the economic impact of the pandemic”.
“The need for these roles has never been greater and this pattern is reflected wider across Scotland in terms of increased caseload and greater financial insecurity. “
All funding would need to get the seal of approval from the council when it sets its budget next year and in 2023 — but could be met through a £200,000 annual welfare contingency fund, if it is maintained.
Since September 2018, new applicants and those reporting a change in circumstance have received Universal Credit. The transfer of people on existing benefits, such as job seekers allowance and housing benefits, has been delayed, with completion now expected in 2024.
In East Renfrewshire, this transfer process is expected to affect around 2,700 claimants. The council’s Money Advice and Rights team (MART), the Citizens Advice Bureau and a Scottish Welfare Fund team all provide support to residents.
The Scottish Government’s welfare fund provides community care and crisis grants to “mitigate some of the impact of welfare reform on the country’s most vulnerable residents”.
Demand has increased in the past for years and has been “exacerbated by the global pandemic”, with applications for crisis grants, which provide a “safety net” in an emergency, rising from 488 in 2017/18 to 807 in 2020/21.
The additional workload on the welfare fund team has led to “difficulty at times meeting the response times expected by the Scottish Government”, an issue which was “further exacerbated” by the need to process Covid-19 self-isolation grants.
Just over £120,000 has been requested to fund two posts from April next year to March 2024 to help process applications.
An external contract, worth £50,000 over two years, is also suggested as “recent experience has shown that having increased resiliency is paramount”. The contract would allow “processing resource” to be called on when needed, up to a limit of £25,000 per year.
The MART achieved £5.5m in financial gains for residents in 2020/21, and £79,000 of funding is requested to continue a financial well-being role until September 2024, which helps residents with personal budgeting and securing benefit entitlement.
It is hoped the post can be extended to offer financial inclusion advice in GP surgeries and schools.
Councillors will also consider whether to give £80,000 to East Renfrewshire’s Citizens Advice Bureau so a full-time staff member can continue offering benefit support work for two more years.
The cabinet will make its decision at a meeting next Thursday (November 25).