Citizens Advice Bureaux foodbank survey
In 2013 Citizens Advice asked our local bureaux to keep a record of every client they refer to an emergency food provider. We asked bureaux to do this for one month each in Spring 2013 and note the reason for the food need occurring.
The results cited below are from 29 bureaux who recorded every referral to a foodbank for one month in Spring 2013 and the reasons for the need for that referral. A total of 639 referrals to foodbanks were made by these bureaux during one month. Scaling up this would represent about 100,000 referrals by all bureaux over the course of a year. In a few cases the adviser cited more than one reason for the referral so the numbers of clients for whom a particular reason was given sums to 678.
36% of cases (227 clients) where a voucher was issued had to do with a delay in benefit payments. This can include delays in the processing of a claim, delays in moving from one benefit to another. For example claimants of ESA found fit for work and having difficulty moving to JSA. We are aware of cases when clients are directed to foodbanks instead of being offered short term benefit advances, or help from local authority social fund replacement schemes.
16% of food vouchers (103 clients) referred to clients who had had their benefits sanctioned for perceived non-compliance with the conditions of their benefit receipt. In October 2012 the severity of sanctions increased to the point where the minimum sanction is four weeks for the non-attendance of an appointment or failure to apply for enough work in a given period. Bureaux experience is that vulnerable clients (e.g. those with mental health problems or minor learning difficulties) are disproportionately sanctioned.
10% of cases (61 clients) involve a client being refused benefits. This is a very varied category which will include for example disallowed ESA claims, and tax credit compliance exercises such as the Undisclosed Partners Project which can lead to the cutting off of an award for long periods of time even if the claimants successfully appeals.
5% of cases involved a loss of benefit e.g. a deduction for the benefit cap or under occupancy penalty.
Almost 4% of cases involved the recovery of debts from benefits, this will include benefit overpayments and in this survey repayments of the (now abolished) crisis loan system.
8% of cases involved homelessness broadly defined for instance extra foods costs can be incurred by people in temporary accommodation which can lack cooking facilities.
2.5% of cases involve family breakdown.
There were other non-benefit related issues which tended to be in small numbers but which included, bailiffs, payday lenders and other hardship caused by debt recovery action. These total about 4%
Bureaux reported numerous other reasons in addition to categories we specified. (Advisers reported other reasons than those above for 134 clients). These included: people recently dismissed from work, effects of persistent low pay, migrants without recourse to public funds, victims of domestic violence, victims of other crimes which had left them without money, and clients who had spent their money on high utility bills and were left without money for food.
This exercise was repeated in the autumn of 2013 to monitor changes in the amount of food need and in its causes. A report will be published on these changes and their policy implications.