Helping disadvantaged residents to maximise their income and improve their financial resilience has long been a priority for the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Both COVID-19 and cost of living have brought an added impetus to this work.
A holistic approach to support is embedded across the advice and benefits service, with four specialist teams: welfare rights, universal support (specialist universal credit support), money advice, and emergency support (managing the local welfare assistance fund). The money advice team was formed during the pandemic, combining income maximisation and support for residents who have a debt with the council and/or are repeatedly applying for emergency support.
Work has been underway to streamline these teams, so that when an individual accesses one part of the service they are linked into wider support if required. Corin Hammersley, Advice and Policy Manager, said:
“COVID had a big impact in pushing us to work together in a more efficient way. So, for example, when an individual applies to our emergency support scheme [ESS] we are now much better at referring them to other support where relevant.”
Triage and better integration
Changes introduced during the pandemic include a triage system, with all phone calls directed through one line (the universal support team triages calls at the first point of contact); and the provision of remote support to help people apply for ESS online, which is the primary route. These changes helped to shift the focus to a ‘front-end’ approach to supporting clients through better integration between teams.
“Through conversations with residents we were picking up more issues at the point that they applied, so we could refer them straight into other teams.”
As an example, one client applied for emergency support and was referred to the money advice team. Through direct engagement they were found to be missing out on severe disability premium and received £30,000 in backdated payments.
Another client was a lone parent living in temporary accommodation with two children, one with autism. When she applied to the ESS for the second time the money advice team took on the case and helped her access support including carer’s allowance, disabled child element and council tax support. This increased her income by £418 a month and cleared her council tax debts. The universal support team then helped her to renegotiate the deductions on her universal credit.
There is also a lot of cross-referral between Greenwich Live Well, the borough’s social prescribing infrastructure, and the council’s advice and benefits service, with established referral pathways in place.
Emergency Support Scheme (ESS)
In 2020 the ESS was made permanent, allowing the Royal Borough of Greenwich to offer vital support to vulnerable residents in the form of either community support awards or emergency support payments. Community awards are goods or services (goods are delivered and installed; the most common service is furniture removals). Discretionary cash payments range from £30 to £300, typically just over £100.
Greenwich has an annual budget of £750,000 for the ESS, for both expenditure and administration, though this was boosted by the Household Support Fund (HSF) grant. In 2019/20, expenditure was £395,000 and there were about 350 claims a month (3,771 in total). In 2021/22 the total expenditure reached £643,497 (5,142 claims).
Just halfway through the 2022/23 financial year expenditure had reached £493,799 (3,384 claims) and was expected to reach £1 million – something that was only possible due to the HSF grant, which Royal Greenwich was using to increase the number of residents that could be helped through the ESS.
Some of the HSF grant has been used for a small community grants scheme. Corin Hammersley said: “We recognise that, as effective as we are in what we do, there are some communities and groups that residents may feel more comfortable reaching out to for support, and which may also be best placed to offer the support.” This has helped with, for example, direct provision of ambient food for the borough’s food banks and food clubs.
HSF funding has provided targeted cash payments in the holidays to families entitled to free school meals, now extended to pre-school children (currently £100 per child in four payments). Targeted payments were made to some specific groups – currently care leavers and households supported by the no recourse to public funds team.
The council’s ‘Greenwich Supports’ campaign is seeking to ensure that residents are aware of the help and support available – the emergency support scheme and ‘Live Well’ being key components of this.
- Longer-term stability for local welfare assistance funding from central government is required to really address the root causes of poverty.
- Greenwich Council’s ESS awards cash payments via the Post Office, which they have found is the easiest and most effective way to support residents in urgent need. The same principle has been used with payments from the HSF.