West Lothian welfare grants surge past £2m as pandemic hits families

The council administers the Holyrood-funded national Scottish Welfare Fund.

West Lothian welfare grants surge past £2m as pandemic hits families iStock

Payments to West Lothian families from the Scottish Welfare Fund shot up to more than £2m during the pandemic, new figures from the council’s anti-poverty service have revealed.

The council administers the Holyrood-funded national Scottish Welfare Fund.

In 2020/21 there was a “significant” increase in the number of crisis grant applications received compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, said the council. 

In reports to recent local area committees, Chris Nelson, from the anti-poverty service, outlined the surge in applications and the extra workload staff had faced as a result of the pandemic.

There were 12,789 crisis grant applications received between April 1 last year and March 31 this year, compared to the 8647 in 2019/20.

The total financial support provided via crisis grants for this period went up to £1,022,126 compared to £375,801 in 2019/20.

In addition to this the anti-poverty service manager, Elaine Nisbet, said: “There were 2872 community care grant applications received during the same period which resulted in £1,084,269 in community care grant payments.

“There is a significant increase in the cost of the grants due to households requiring increased grant amounts to cover the impact on the loss of household income due to furlough and redundancies.”

Crisis grants can be awarded to meet expenses that have arisen as a result of an emergency or disaster in order to avoid an immediate threat to health or safety. Examples of items that can be awarded are help with food and utility costs.

They are paid in cash through 111 paypoint outlets in West Lothian. Payments can also be collected at Arrochar House in Livingston or Bathgate Partnership Centre.

Community care grants can support independent living, preventing the need for institutional care.

Applicants who qualify will be provided with household items, and cash is only given in exceptional circumstances if a household item cannot be sourced from the furniture supplier.

Grants are available to anyone aged 16 or over and applicants should normally have a low income, for example be in receipt of a benefit such as Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance or Pension Credit.

Applicants do not have to be in receipt of a benefit to receive a grant. Anyone who has a low income, or does not have access to their money, can apply.

The key test of eligibility for a crisis grant is the severity of your situation and the likely impact of the grant on you and your family, if you have a family.

The key test of eligibility for a community care grant is whether or not the grant will help you maintain or establish a settled way of life in the community.

Grants may not be awarded if the applicant, or partner, has savings of over £700 if they are below pension age, or £1200 if above pension age.

By local democracy reporter Stuart Sommerville