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Written Statement - Arrangements to implement the Welsh Government’s Discretionary Assistance Fund from 1 April 2013

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities

As part of the UK Government’s ongoing programme of welfare reform, elements of the current Social Fund provided by the UK Government, specifically the Discretionary Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, are being discontinued at the end of March 2013. The Welsh Government will therefore be introducing its own scheme from 1 April 2013. The new scheme will be called the Discretionary Assistance Fund.  

Following consultation and engagement with our partner organisations across the Statutory and Third Sector in Wales, I have appointed Northgate Public Services working in partnership with the Family Fund and Wrexham County Borough Council as our provider to deliver this new scheme in Wales.  

The purpose of the Discretionary Assistance Fund is to offer payments or in kind support to enable or maintain independent living and to provide urgent assistance to people where there is an identified need to safeguard health and well being. These payments will be made available to people who have no other means of meeting the immediate cost of living and are not intended to meet the cost of ongoing expenses. As such, payments from this fund are not repayable. Initially to run for two years, the annual budget I have set aside for the new fund will be £10.2 million each year.    

There are two elements to the Discretionary Assistance Fund. The first element of the fund will be Individual Assistance Payments. These will be made to support vulnerable people live independently in the community where it is evident that this cannot be achieved without help. These payments will help avoid the need for institutional care, ease exceptional pressure on low income families and help resettlement into the community for people in receipt of income related welfare benefits.

The second element of the fund will be Emergency Assistance Payments. These will be available to all people aged 16 and over to meet expenses incurred because of an unforeseen emergency or disaster. Eligibility to receive these payments is not based on receipt of income related welfare benefits.  

The Department of Work and Pensions will continue to make certain crisis loan payments in cases of hardship to meet the costs of food and heating where there has been a benefit payment to vulnerable people disallowed or sanctioned.  Short term advances of welfare benefit will also continue to be available when a claimant is unable to manage to meet the cost of food and heating before their next benefit or wage payday payment is made.

The arrangements and eligibility criteria for the Welsh Government’s Discretionary Assistance Payments will be kept under review as the fund is implemented from April. Northgate Public Services will develop and maintain a close working relationship with recognised partner organisations across the Third and Public Sector in Wales to ensure that the people most vulnerable in our society are able to access the support and help they need in the current economic climate.