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Food Voucher Report


Introduction

Over the past year Westminster CAB began to witness an increasing number of people requesting food vouchers. As a result of this Westminster CAB began to closely observe and record the food voucher claims for the period starting from May 2013 and ending August 2014. This increase led the Social Policy (SP) Team to begin collecting anonymous data to assess whether there are any trends within the claimants’ circumstances; as this could reveal if there are any underlying issues that can be addressed on a local or national level.

Background information
Foodbank

On average, Westminster residents have the third highest income in the UK, but 14% of the neighbourhood are in the top 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK, based on income. 50% of Westminster’s lowest-income population live in five wards within the borough: Westbourne, Queens’ Park, Harrow Road, Church Street and Churchill. (NPC-Understanding Social Needs in Westminster, p 11, 2012)

Queen’s Park, Westbourne and Harrow Road are amongst the top 10 wards in London for Working Age Incapacity Benefit claimants for mental health reasons. (Westminster Primary Care Trust Annual Report Accounts, p.13-14, 2012-13)

When we look at those in receipt of benefits by ward, we find that the highest number of claimants were concentrated in the areas of: Harrow Road, Queen’s Park, Westbourne and Churchill (we have witnessed numerous residents from these wards attend the bureau for food vouchers). (City of Westminster, Local Economic Assessment Baseline Study, p.74, 2011)

We had many people come from the North of the borough where we are located, but felt our statistics from the South may have been affected by the fact that there is not another Citizens Advice Bureau in the South. There are other sources people can request assistance from in the South of the borough, in regards to obtaining food vouchers.

Findings

There was little disparity between the number of men and women that claimed food vouchers, with 51% men and 49% women. As we checked the age of recipients we found clear differences in the age groups of the recipients:

  • 40% were 35-49
  • 29% were 50-64
  • 20% were 25-34
  • 8% did not disclose their age
  • 3% were 18-24

The requests for food vouchers usually have a familiar pattern of:

  • Department for Work and Pensions terminating a claimants benefit due to the person being deemed to not qualify for the benefit they are currently receiving
  • Client is sanctioned by Job Centre Plus
  • An administrative delay on the part of Job Centre Plus.

Food VoucherOf the food voucher requests Westminster CAB has received, 90% of these are from people who are claiming benefits or applying for benefits. Our research shows that 46% of people that came for a voucher were claiming Employment and Support Allowance previously and had had their claim cancelled or suspended once they attended the Work Capability Assessment.

These findings are in line with Trussell Trust reports that estimate that nationally 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan.

Many of the claimants that had their benefit cancelled were not automatically transferred on to another benefit such as Job Seekers Allowance. Claimants had to make new claims and/or mount appeals. Whilst they did this they had no income and many of them had no other alternative but to come to the Bureau for a food voucher.

Since 1 April 2013, Crisis loans were replaced by Short Term Benefit Advance (STBA) payment. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can make an advance payment of a benefit that a claimant is waiting to receive, if they are in financial need.  Advances need to be repaid. Claimants needing an advance must request an STBA, however, the scheme is not well publicised. (CAB AdviserNet)

As a result of these measures and poor administration practices, benefit claimants are enduring unnecessary hardship that could be easily resolved in the short term by DWP in the form of an STBA, although we acknowledge not every benefit qualifies a claimant for STBA.

Westminster CAB benefits caseworkers have around a 95% success rate in appeals submissions. Of those, 15% were only successful after further appeals to the Upper Tribunal.

Westminster CAB Social Policy Action

  • In July 2013 the bureau’s SP Team wrote to the local DWP to highlight the growing trend that clients suffering mental illness were having problems with the Work Capability Assessments undertaken by ATOS health professionals. We suggested that the test itself was not fit for purpose in that it did specifically identify the particular problems these claimants face in finding and securing work.
  • In October 2013 the bureau’s benefits caseworkers were interviewed by the SP Team on their experience of ESA benefits decisions and appeals. This evidence was used as part of a consultation response to the Social Security Select Committee on the independent review of the Work Capability Assessment.
  • The bureau supports ‘Thunderclap’ – the national Citizens Advice’ campaigns initiative which highlights our high level of success against wrongful ESA decisions, and to argues that, in line with natural justice, people should continue to receive benefit whilst they await a second opinion on their ESA claim (a period known as Mandatory Reconsideration).

Produced by Wesley Foster, Volunteer SP Assistant, Westminster CAB SP Team


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