We are regularly asked a number of questions about Social Fund law. The answers to some of the most common questions are listed below. This information can be seen by anyone, but is intended principally to assist applicants and representatives. To avoid legal complexities, we have expressed some of the legal tests in our own words. The details on this page are guidance, so do not provide a full interpretation of the law or cover every situation. All applicants have precise legal tests applied to them. You can find the precise wording of the legal tests in the Social Fund Guide, which can be found at your local Social Security Office, library or many advice centres.
A : The maximum amount anyone can owe the Social Fund is £1500. This does not mean everyone can borrow £1500. It means that no one can owe more than £1500 to the Fund at any one time. The amount that can be awarded varies from application to application, depending on the individual circumstances of the particular case. The person deciding your case cannot award you a payment that will take your total Social Fund debt past the £1500 limit. This may mean your application is refused or you receive less than you asked for.
A : Eligibility for grants and budgeting loans depends on whether or not you receive a qualifying benefit (Pension Credit, Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)).
Budgeting loans : To be eligible for a budgeting loan you must, on the date your case is decided, have been receiving either Pension Credit, Income Support, income based Jobseekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for at least 26 weeks.
We also take into account earlier periods when you received a qualifying benefit, as long as any break in benefit receipt does not exceed 28 days. We must look at specific legal tests when deciding whether to ignore a break in your receipt of a qualifying benefit. If you think this situation applies to your application, you should ask the person who handles your case for advice.
The three waiting days at the start of a claim for income based Job Seekers Allowance do not count as days in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
Unless you have received a qualifying benefit for at least 26 weeks you cannot be awarded a budgeting loan.
Community Care Grant : When you apply for a community care grant you must (but for the exception covered below) be receiving a qualifying benefit in order to become eligible. A qualifying benefit is Pension Credit, Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Applications for grants can be considered before a qualifying benefit is awarded if you are leaving institutional or residential care. A grant can be awarded up to six weeks before discharge if it appears likely you will be entitled to Income Support or Income Based Job Seekers Allowance when you leave care.
If you do not receive a qualifying benefit, or are unlikely to do so on discharge from institutional or residential care, you will not be eligible for a grant.
Crisis Loans : A qualifying benefit does not have to be in payment in order for you to be eligible for a crisis loan. However, you must be aged 16 or over to be eligible for a crisis loan. In order to be eligible you must also be without sufficient resources to meet immediate short-term needs.
If you become eligible for a grant or loan, this does not automatically mean you will get a payment. Your application must go on to meet specific qualification tests before a payment is considered.
A : Start by sending your local Social Security Agency a self-completion application form SF300.
These are available from the Social Security Agency and many advice centres. Grants are intended to promote community care by :
- helping people leaving care to establish themselves in the community
- helping people remain in the community rather than enter care
- easing exceptional pressure on families
- helping with the care of a prisoner or young offender on release or temporary license
- helping people set up home as part of a resettlement programme
- assisting with certain travelling expenses
To qualify for a grant you must show that you fall into one, or more, of the situations listed above. Grants are intended to help people on Pension Credit, Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who face difficulty arising from these special types of circumstance.
A : The Social Fund is a discretionary scheme that is cash limited. Each district of the Social Security Agency has an annual grants budget and an annual loans budget. These annual budgets are fixed and must not be exceeded.
There is no legal entitlement to a grant, even when you qualify for one. If you qualify for a grant, the decision-maker decides whether the items or service you request have enough priority for payment. We take the circumstances of your case into account to decide the appropriate level of priority for each of the expenses you want help with.
Having decided the priority of each of your items or services, the decision-maker decides which of these the limited budget can meet.
The Social Fund Manager and Area Decision Maker in each Social Security Agency district office must manage the budget. He issues guidance about the level of priority (generally high, medium or low) that may be met from the district's grants budget. If the state of the budget means that only high priorities (urgent and important) can be met, you are likely to be refused a grant for expenses that have only medium or low priority.
A : The Secretary of State gives guidance on establishing priority. When establishing priority the decision-maker takes account of all the circumstances of your case.
Examples of circumstances that may influence priority assessment include :
- type of items or services applied for
- reason for the request
- the effect an award will have
- whether any other help is available
- health issues
- living conditions
- social history
- general circumstances of yourself and family
This list is not exhaustive.
Local guidance advises which level of priority the budget can meet (generally high, medium or low for grants).
A : If you have been awarded or refused a payment for an item or service, you cannot get a grant or crisis loan for the same item or service within 28 days of a previous application, unless there has been a relevant change in your circumstances. There is no restriction on repeat applications for budgeting loans.
A : Start by sending your Social Security Agency a self-completion application form SF401. These are available from the Social Security Agency and many advice centres.
Crisis loans can only be paid to help you meet expenses in an emergency, or as a consequence of a disaster. Neither of these terms is defined in Social Fund law. The OSFC working definition of "emergency" is "an unforeseen circumstance or pressing need, either of which requires immediate remedy or action". We give the term "disaster" its everyday meaning.
A crisis loan cannot be paid unless it is the only means of preventing serious damage or serious risk to health and safety. This means you cannot get a crisis loan unless you have no other resources or ways of meeting your need.
A : Budgeting loans are available to help people on Pension Credit, Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with intermittent expenses. Eligibility depends on whether or not you receive these qualifying benefits at the right time, (see question two.) Budgeting loans are interest free and paid from a cash ,limited fund.
Unlike grants and crisis loans they are not aimed at meeting specific needs in particular situations. The scope of the budgeting loan scheme is defined by the following categories of items :
- Furniture and household equipment
- Clothing and footwear
- Rent in advance and/or removal expenses for new accommodation
- Improvement, maintenance and security of the home
- Travelling expenses
- Expenses associated with seeking or re-entering work
- HP and other debts (for expenses associated with the above categories)
For budgeting loan applications you just need to show which of the broad categories (see above) your expenses fall into, together with the total sum you need.
Because the budgeting loan fund remains cash limited, applications still need to be prioritised. The maximum individual amount you can borrow depends on how many people are in your household and how much you already owe to the Social Fund.
A budgeting loan application cannot be treated as an application for any other type of payment.
If you are unsure about which type of payment best relates to your circumstances, you may choose to ask an advice centre or local Social Security Agency to help you decide.