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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February 2005, 18:03 GMT
How to get emergency benefit help
By Sarah Clarke
Solicitor, Child Poverty Action Group

Many people on low incomes could be getting financial help through the government's Social Fund.

Money Talk graphic

But recent surveys have suggested people who could benefit from the fund have never heard of it.

A leading welfare rights lawyer provides an introduction to the scheme.

The Social Fund offers a range of payments and loans to help people on low incomes pay for expenses they cannot afford out of their everyday income.

You need to be on benefits or tax credits to claim all the Social Fund grants and loans except for crisis loans and winter fuel payments.

You also have to meet other conditions to qualify. What follows is an outline of the scheme; it doesn't set out all the rules, which are complicated. If you need help, seek advice.

There are different types of awards depending on what you need help with.

Community Care Grants

These are grants paid to help people live independently in the community. The minimum grant is 30 and there is no legal maximum. The average payment is 364. The money does not need to be paid back.

They are open to people on income support, income-based jobseekers' allowance and Pension Credit.

To find welfare benefits advice near you look in the CLS Directory
Get leaflets SB16 and GL18 and claim forms from Jobcentre Plus offices, social security offices or pension service offices or download from the DWP website
Citizens Advice offers online and practical advice
Adivcenow offers online and a directory of local welfare rights services
Your MP may be able to intervene on your behalf
*See links on right

You must need a grant for one of the following reasons:

  • to ease exceptional pressures on you and your family
  • to help you live in the community instead of institutional or residential care;
  • to look after a prisoner or young offender on temporary release;
  • to help you set up home as part of a planned resettlement programme;
  • for certain travel costs.

You can get a grant to pay for any item as long as it isn't excluded by the rules.

Your grant will be reduced by any savings you have over 500, or 1,000 if you are 60 or over.

Budgeting loans

Budgeting loans are interest-free loans of between 30 and up to 1,000 to help pay for expenses which are difficult to budget for after a period on benefits. The average loan is 384. They can be paid for certain things, like furniture and household goods.
SF300 Community Care Grant
SF500 Budgeting loan
SF401 Crisis loan
SF100 Sure Start Maternity Grant
SF200 Funeral payment

They are open to people on income support, income-based jobseekers' allowance and Pension Credit.

You must be likely to be able to pay the money back to get a loan. Deductions are made from your benefits to pay it back. The savings rules are the same as for community care grants.

To qualify, applicants must have been getting a qualifying benefit for at least the last 26 weeks.

If you can, it is better to apply for a community care grant, since you don't have to repay this. A claim for a loan will not be considered for a grant and vice versa.

Crisis loans

Crisis loans are interest-free loans of up to 1,000 for people who need help to meet expenses in an emergency or following a disaster. The average payment is 77.

A baby
Bringing up baby: Sure Start Maternity Grant worth 500

You must need a loan to prevent serious risk to your health and safety. You can also get a crisis loan for rent payable in advance to a landlord in certain circumstances. The loan must be repaid and can be recovered from benefits.

You do not need to be getting benefits to apply, although you must be without sufficient resources to meet the immediate short-term needs of you and/or your family. You also have to show you are likely to be able to repay the loan.

There are some groups of people who are not eligible to claim, and some items you cannot get a loan to pay for.

An application for a crisis loan should be dealt with on the day the need arises where possible. If you have problems with a claim, you could get help from an advice agency, or your MP.

Sure Start Maternity Grant

The Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) is payment of 500 for the extra costs of having a baby.

If you are receiving income support, income bsed jobseekers' alowance, Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit above the famiy element or Working Tax Credit including the disability or severe disability element

The money does not have to be paid back.

You can claim at any time from 11 weeks of the expected week of birth up to three months after the birth.

Funeral payment

Funeral payments are made to help meet certain funeral costs. They can be claimed by a close relative, partner or close friend of the deceased. A claim can be made up to three months after the date of the death.

The average payment is 1,019. You don't have to pay it back, but the Secretary of State can recover it from the deceased's estate, if there is enough money.

If you are receiving income support, income bsed jobseekers' alowance, Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit above the famiy element or Working Tax Credit including the disability or severe disability element
If you are receiving housing benefit and/or council tax benefit

You may not get a funeral payment if there is someone else who can claim, or someone else who can pay for the funeral.

Cold Weather Payments

These are paid at 8.50 per week if there has been a period of seven days when the average daily temperature has been below 0 degrees Celsius in the local area.

They are open to people on income support, income-based jobseekers' allowance and Pension Credit.

The local social security office or Jobcentre should publicise when there are periods of cold weather in your area.

The payments should be made automatically if you are getting a qualifying benefit and you shouldn't need to claim. If you think you should have received a payment but didn't, contact your local social security office or Jobcentre. These payments are not made to people in care homes.

Winter Fuel Payments

You can get a winter fuel payment if you are 60 or over on the third Monday in September, you are ordinarily resident in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, and you are not in an excluded group.

Winter Fuel Payments helpline: 0845 9151515; 0845 601 5613 for textphone users (Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 4.30pm and calls are charged at local rates)
All claims for winter 2004/05 must be received by 30 March 2005
To get a Winter Fuel Payment for winter 2004/05 you needed to be aged 60 or over in the qualifying week of 20 to 26 September 2004 and normally living in the United Kingdom

If you got a payment last year, you shouldn't need to claim again. If you are claiming for the first time, or if you are not in receipt of certain benefits, you need to claim a winter fuel payment before 31 March following your 60th birthday.

Claimants aged between 60 and 80 can get 200, and those aged 80 or over can get 300. If you are sharing accommodation with someone else who is eligible you will get one payment for the household.

Challenging decisions

For decisions on crisis loans, budgeting loans and community care grants you can ask for a review in writing within 28 days of the date the decision was issued to you.

For decisions on funeral payments, maternity grants, cold weather payments and winter fuel payments you can ask for a revision or appeal to a tribunal within a month of the date the decision was sent to you.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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