Liverpool City Council’s scheme to help people hit by welfare reforms has been praised by the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Liverpool Citizens Support Scheme – which replaced DWP Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants in 2013 – helped almost 9,000 people in its first year.
The scheme is focused around Urgent Needs – mainly food, fuel and clothing, and Home Needs such as furniture, white goods and household items which are supplied by Liverpool Furniture Resource Centre.
Citizens Advice have highlighted Liverpool’s scheme in a new report on their website titled “Making Welfare Work Locally”. They say the city’s approach stood out because it was “designed to be flexible and appropriate changes were made during the year as lessons were learned”.
The city council increased promotion of the scheme and used an underspend to introduce a freephone number and to support related initiatives such as benefits maximization and topping up the discretionary housing payments budget to help people affected by the so-called Bedroom Tax.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “When we spoke to staff at Liverpool City Council, we were particularly impressed by how officers were keen that the scheme was able to respond quickly to provide help to people in urgent need as well as help with furniture and household goods.
“It was good to see how they had been able to amend the scheme during the year to respond to feedback from user groups to make it more accessible to a wider range of people in crisis.”
They were also impressed with the way the scheme is integrated into the Benefits Service so that the team can assess the application for any other entitlements and support.
Urgent needs awards are processed in two days, while Home Needs claims are dealt with in 10 days.
Mayor Joe Anderson said: “These are really tough times for many of our residents who are battling a rising cost of living with a reduction in their benefits and this leaves them extremely vulnerable at times of crisis.
“The help our scheme gives with basic living costs and the essentials of setting up home can make a huge difference.
“We have worked hard to ensure the service is quick, flexible to meet a range of needs and helps people access a range of other support where needed.
“This is part of the council’s commitment to helping those who are most in need, which has also included setting up the Tackling Poverty Action Group which is chaired by Councillor Frank Hont, which looks to coordinate activity across the city with all those agencies working to support our most vulnerable citizens.
“The council also supports food banks through the Mayor’s Hope Fund, uses our reserves to mitigate the impact of the cut in council tax support and gives £1 million to credit unions to try and stop people turning to loan sharks.”
An example highlighted in the report is a man who found himself caring for his younger siblings when his mum died. He received financial support to tide him over while a child benefit application was processed and also had help with his housing benefit.
More recently, the Liverpool Citizens Support Scheme been extended to help with the cost of moving home as a result of benefit reductions such as the under occupation penalty (the so-called bedroom tax), which affects 11,000 tenants in Liverpool.
Support is also now provided where people are being threatened with eviction due to debt, and to help with the cost of starting work.
The council has also extended the use of freephone 0800 numbers to all Benefits Service calls including housing benefit, council tax support, free school meals and benefits maximisation advice.
And additional staff are being employed by the benefits maximisation team to help people affected by welfare reforms.