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Help for people on a low income - the Social Fund and other welfare schemes

Help for one-off expenses – the Social Fund

If you are on a low income, the Social Fund may be able to help you with certain one-off or occasional expenses. If you meet the conditions, the Social Fund can provide funeral payments, maternity grants, budgeting loans and cold weather payments.

Until 1 April 2013, the Social Fund could also pay community care grants and crisis loans but these have now been abolished. They have been replaced by different welfare assistance schemes and advance payments of benefit.

In Scotland, the Scottish Welfare Fund has been set up to replace the Social Fund community care grants and crisis loans for living expenses. It pays out community care grants and crisis grants.

More about the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Winter fuel payments are also a type of Social Fund payment, but they are restricted to people who have reached state pension age for women.

For more information about winter fuel payments, see Benefits for older people.

If you are on a low income, you may also be able to get benefit to help with your living costs, your rent or other housing costs and your Council Tax.

For more information about help on a low income, see Help for people on a low income – Income Support.

Help with the costs of a new baby - maternity grants

A maternity grant (also known as a Sure Start maternity grant) is a fixed amount of £500 to help people on a low income buy clothes and equipment for a new born baby. It does not have to be repaid. You can choose how to spend the money.

You can only get a maternity grant if the new baby is the only child under 16 in the household. Different rules apply if you give birth to twins or more babies.

You can get a maternity grant if you or your partner is getting:

  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit, if your award is high enough
  • Working Tax Credit including an extra amount for disability
  • Universal Credit.

You can claim a maternity grant if you or your partner is at least 29 weeks’ pregnant, or has given birth, adopted a baby or had a child by a surrogate mother within the last three months. In some circumstances, you can claim if you are the grandparent of the baby and you are responsible for the baby. To claim a maternity grant, you also have to show that you have received advice from a health care professional. The baby must not be more than twelve months old at the date of the claim.

If you are an asylum seeker getting government asylum support, you cannot get a maternity grant but you can ask for a one-off payment of £300. You must apply before your baby is two weeks old.

I get Income Support and my girlfriend's pregnant. We don't speak much English and we don't really understand the benefits system. Can we get help to buy things for the baby?

Yes, you might get a maternity grant of £500 to help you buy clothes and equipment for the baby. Your local benefits office should explain to you in your own language how to make the claim. Or you can get a leaflet from them in your language. An adviser at your local Citizens Advice Bureau could help you make your claim and they could help you understand what else you might be entitled to. For example, your girlfriend can get vouchers for fruit, vegetables and milk and vitamins while she's pregnant and when the baby is born, you can get more financial help.

For more information on maternity grants, see Benefits for families and children.

Funeral payments

A funeral payment is a payment to help people on a low income with the essential costs of a funeral. You do not have to repay a funeral payment, although it can be recovered from the estate of the person who has died.

Who can claim a funeral payment

You can claim a funeral payment if you or your partner is getting one of the following:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • housing benefit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, if your award is high enough
  • Working Tax Credit including an extra amount for disability
  • Universal Credit.

Your capital (for example, savings) doesn't affect a funeral payment.

Responsibility for the funeral

You will not get a funeral payment just because you are paying for a funeral. The Jobcentre Plus office, or Social Security Agency office in Northern Ireland, has to accept that it is reasonable for you to be responsible for the funeral costs and that there is no one else who should be paying for it. If you are claiming funeral costs for your child who has died or if you are the partner of the person who has died, you can be paid a funeral payment as long as you meet the benefit conditions. This applies to lesbian and gay partners as well as heterosexual partners. It also applies whether you were married, in a civil partnership or just living together.

If you are a close relative, family member or a friend of the person who has died, you may be able to get a funeral payment, but it will depend whether there are other relatives alive who are not on benefit. If there is someone closer or equally close to the person who has died who is not on benefit, you cannot usually get a funeral payment. In this situation, Jobcentre Plus will also consider whether it is reasonable for you to accept responsibility for the funeral expenses. They will look at how well you knew the dead person.

What costs can be met

A funeral payment will not cover all the costs of a funeral. It will not pay for expenses which are already covered under a pre-paid funeral plan.

Otherwise, a funeral payment can include:

  • the costs of a new burial plot or the costs of cremation
  • the cost of transporting the body for the return journey between the funeral home or place of rest and the place where the person died. But only if this journey is over 50 miles. Only the part of the journey over 50 miles will be paid for
  • the cost of transporting the coffin and one car of mourners to the funeral, but only if the return journey is over 50 miles. Only the part of the journey over 50 miles will be paid for
  • the cost of one return journey for you to attend or arrange the funeral
  • the cost of getting documents to release the assets of the person who has died.

A funeral payment can also include up to £700 for other expenses, including:

  • the funeral director's fees
  • flowers
  • the cost of collecting and transporting a body 50 miles or less
  • extra religious requirements.

If there is a private funeral payment plan, there is a limit of £120 for any of these other expenses that are not already covered by the funeral plan.

A funeral payment will be reduced by any available assets of the person who has died. This means any resources they had which can be used to pay towards the funeral, but doesn't include arrears of benefits owing to them when they died. It also includes:

  • lump sum insurance payments
  • pension scheme payments
  • contributions towards funeral expenses from charities or relatives
  • any money paid out under a pre-paid funeral plan.

If you get a funeral payment which does not cover all the costs, you may be able to get a budgeting loan as well.

When to claim a funeral payment

You can claim a funeral payment from the date of death up to three months after the date of the funeral, even if you have already paid the funeral bill.

How to claim a funeral payment

You can claim by:

  • phoning the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Bereavement Service. They can take a claim for a funeral payment and bereavement benefits over the phone. They can also do a benefit check to see if the next of kin is entitled to any other benefits as a result of the death
  • contacting you local Jobcentre Plus office for a claim form SF200
  • downloading an SF200 claim form from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

For more information about the Bereavement Service, see 'Telling government about the death' in What to do after a death

If you have used a funeral director who has not yet been paid, the funeral payment will usually be sent direct to them. If the funeral director has already been paid, the payment will be made to you. You may not be able to claim back the full costs of the funeral.

If you are refused a funeral payment

If you are refused a funeral payment or think your award is lower than it should be, you can challenge the decision. You should do this within one month of the decision.

Further information about funeral payments

For more information about funeral payments from the Social Fund, go to the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

For more information about challenging a decision, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are not happy with a funeral payment decision you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Cold weather payments

Cold weather payments help people on a low income with fuel costs during periods of cold weather. It does not matter what you spend the money on, and they do not have to be repaid. Each postcode area of the country is linked to a weather station and payments are made for periods of cold weather. When the weather station forecasts or records an average daily temperature of 0 degrees centigrade or less for seven consecutive days, a payment will be made.

Cold weather payments are different from Winter Fuel Payments which are made every winter to people aged over state pension age, regardless of the temperature.

For more information about Winter Fuel Payments and who can get them, see Benefits for older people.

People on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

You will be entitled to a cold weather payment if you get Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance for at least one day during the period of cold weather and:

  • you have a child under five in your family, or
  • you have a child for whom you get Child Tax Credit with an extra amount for their disability, or
  • you get an extra amount for disability or for being over state pension age and you don't live in a care home.

People on Pension Credit

You are entitled to a cold weather payment if you get Pension Credit and don't live in a care home.

You are entitled to a cold weather payment if you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance and:

  • you have a child under five in your family, or
  • you have a child for whom you get Child Tax Credit with an extra amount for their disability, or
  • you get an extra amount for disability or for being over state pension age and you don't live in a care home, or
  • you get a support component or work-related activity component and you don't live in a care home.

How to get a cold weather payment

If you are entitled to cold weather payments, you will automatically be sent a payment for each period of cold weather. This is £25.00. You do not have to make a claim for a cold weather payment, but if you think you should receive one and you are not paid, you can make a written claim to your local benefit office. If they refuse to make a payment and you still think you are entitled, you can challenge the decision. You should do this within one month of the decision.

For more information about challenging a cold weather payment decision, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are not happy with a cold weather payment decision, you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Community care grants and welfare schemes

Before 1 April 2013, you could apply for a community care grant to help you live in the community and to help your family stay together. From 1 April 2013, community care grants were abolished. In their place, top-tier local authorities in England, together with the Scottish and Welsh governments, have set up welfare assistance schemes to provide some form of replacement help.

In Scotland there is a national scheme called the Scottish Welfare Fund which pays out community care grants. You can apply for a community care grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund to help you to live independently in the community or to help ease exceptional pressure on you and your family.

More information about the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Budgeting loans

Budgeting loans can help with essential lump sum expenses which are difficult to budget for when you are living on means-tested benefits. Budgeting loans have to be paid back to the social fund, but they are interest-free. This means you only have to pay back the amount you are awarded. You won't get a budgeting loan just because you are eligible to apply. The decision will be made following a review of your circumstances.

If you’re offered a Social Fund budgeting loan, you’ll need to say whether you agree to the terms and conditions. Before 22 July 2015, you had to do this by post, as you could only notify Jobcentre Plus in writing. From this date, if you’re happy with the terms and conditions, you now have the option to agree over the phone. If you can’t, or don’t wish to do this, you can still choose to receive the offer, and agree in writing.

Who can apply for a budgeting loan

You can apply for a budgeting loan if you are getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Pension Credit on the day that you apply. In addition, you must have been on one of these benefits for at least 26 weeks. Breaks of 28 days or less in your claim will be ignored.

You cannot receive a full budgeting loan if you or your partner have more than £1,000 in capital (£2,000 if you or your partner are 61 or over). If you have capital above this amount, your budgeting loan award will be reduced by the amount of excess capital.

What expenses can a budgeting loan be made for

A budgeting loan can only be awarded for essential items or services in certain categories of expense. You can apply for a budgeting loan for help with:

  • furniture and household equipment
  • clothing and footwear
  • rent in advance and/or removal expenses to new accommodation
  • improvement, maintenance and security of your home
  • travelling expenses
  • expenses associated with getting or starting a job
  • maternity or funeral expenses
  • hire purchase payments and other debts, if the money was borrowed for expenses in any of the other categories.

Before you apply for a budgeting loan, you should check whether you are entitled to a maternity grant or funeral payment, as these grants do not have to be repaid. (See under Maternity grants and Funeral payments).

In Scotland, you should check whether you are eligible to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund for a crisis grant or a community care grant as these do not have to be repaid.

More about the Scottish Welfare Fund.

How to apply for a budgeting loan

You can apply for a budgeting loan on form SF500, which is available from Jobcentre Plus or the Pensions Service.

You can download a copy of the form from the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

Because budgeting loans depend on your circumstances, you must answer all the questions on the form which apply. You do not have to specify exactly what you need or why, but you must indicate the category of the expenses for which you want a loan and the amount of money required (see under What expenses can a budgeting loan be made for, above).

If you would like help with applying for a budgeting loan, you should ask an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

The budgeting loan decision

The minimum amount of budgeting loan that you can be awarded is £100, and the maximum amount is £1,500. There are three rates of budgeting loan, depending on whether you are single, a couple without children or a one or two parent family with children. The amount you get also depends on whether you have any other budgeting loans. This is because the amount of loan you get, together with the amount you still owe the Social Fund, can't be more than £1,500. The amount you get will also be affected by any capital you have over the capital limit, and your ability to repay the loan. The award will also depend on the district Social Fund budget. The budgeting loan decision will tell you how much you can borrow and what the repayment rates will be – it may offer you more than one arrangement. A loan should normally be repaid within 104 weeks (2 years).

If a budgeting loan is refused, or you are awarded less than you applied for, you can ask Jobcentre Plus to look at the decision again. You must do this within 28 days of the decision and must give full reasons for wanting the decision to be looked at again. If the decision is reviewed and you are still unhappy with the outcome you can ask for a further review by the Independent Case Examiner. This is an independent organisation, completely separate from the Department for Work and Pensions. You can find out more about the ICE at www.ind-case-exam.org.uk.

If you need advice about deciding between budgeting loan offers or if you are not happy with a budgeting loan decision you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Crisis loans and welfare schemes

Before 1 April 2013, you could apply for a crisis loan to help you with living expenses in an emergency situation, as well as to pay rent in advance and to help you when you’d applied for a benefit but had not yet received a payment.

From 1 April 2013 crisis loans have been abolished.

The Scottish government has set up a national scheme called the Scottish Welfare Fund to provide some replacement help for emergency expenses. If you are eligible you may be able to get a crisis grant to help you pay for your living expenses following an emergency or a disaster.

More about the Scottish Welfare Fund.

From 1st April 2013, if you need help with rent in advance, you may be able to apply for a budgeting loan. If you are waiting for a payment of benefit that you have applied for, you can apply for a short term advance of benefit.

Advance payment of benefit

You may be able to get an advance payment of benefit to help with living expenses while you are waiting for a payment of benefit. This is known as a Short Term Benefit Advance (STBA).

You can only get a Short Term Benefit Advance if you’ve claimed a benefit, or an increase in the amount of a benefit you’re already getting, but you haven’t yet received the first payment.

To get an advance you’ll need to show that you or your family are in financial hardship.

If you’re waiting for a decision on a benefit claim you’ll only get an advance if it seems likely that you’re entitled to the benefit.

You should contact the DWP office that is dealing with your benefit claim to ask for a Short Term Benefit Advance. You will have to pay back any advance from future payments of the benefit you get.

If you are unhappy with a decision on a Short Term Benefit Advance, the amount you have been offered or the repayment rate, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Discrimination and the Social Fund

It's against the law for you to be treated unfairly because of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or childbirth, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation when benefits or tax credits are paid to you. Also, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and most local authorities have policies which say they will not discriminate against you because of other things, for example, if you have caring responsibilities. If you feel that you've been discriminated against when you are paid benefits or tax credits, you can make a complaint about this.

For more about discrimination, see our Discrimination pages.

Information in other languages

If you need information about the Social Fund in other languages, you can go to your local benefits office. They can provide interpreting and translation services.