The Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) distributes urgent cash grants and essential items to people in crisis. By offering extra support at the point of application, the Welsh Government is hoping to deliver a longer-term benefit too.
When the discretionary elements of the UK-wide Social Fund came to an end in 2013, the Welsh Government took over the responsibility for emergency financial support for its citizens. Unlike England, where the fund is administered via local councils, in Wales it is administered centrally and is called the Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF).
The DAF distributes urgent cash grants and essential items to Welsh Citizens in crisis.
The Fund provides two types of grants:
To make sure support was delivered fast and consistently in every community, the Welsh Government wanted to offer a one-stop shop approach for the people by working with a single partner to deliver this. NEC was contracted to deliver the programme, working with Wrexham County Borough Council and Family Fund Trading Ltd.
We implemented the programme with an agile model approach, going through project initiation, understanding and agreeing the objectives, methods and desired outcomes. This was followed by the discovery and alpha stages involving research and user testing to increase confidence in the direction of the programme and to ensure that we deliver a user-centric design that fulfils the end-users needs.
Finally on implementing the live programme, the Welsh government has since then, processed more than one million applications quickly while supporting their people in crisis. When it comes to cash grants, 90% of eligible applicants can access the money within 12 hours. White goods, like cookers and washing machines, arrive within seven days.
Another plus of this model is that it can adapt to changing legislation and be modified as the need arises. So when ministers make short-term changes the system can revise quickly. This approach was vital to the Welsh Government’s response to the pandemic.
“Without the ongoing support that I had received from the service my son would have gone hungry and we would frequently have been without gas or electricity. I cannot commend this service enough for the simple and very quick and efficient process of being able to access emergency funds.”
The DAF is a fund of last resort, aimed at people in crisis. So, for those whose finances were already precarious, Covid-19 was devastating.
The Welsh Government expected a surge of applications and asked for some temporary changes. Previously, people could only make three applications in any one year, and in March 2020 this became five for people impacted by the pandemic. The NEC team had to cope with a 100% increase in workload and still delivered support on time.
Yet the overall reduction of repeat applications remains the Welsh Government’s key policy goal, both to divert people from crisis and keep the fund sustainable. But applicants that need repeated help are also the hardest to reach, which is why the team is trying a new approach.
In January 2021, a pilot scheme saw the most vulnerable applicants referred to Citizens Advice Cymru. Around half of all referrals under its Single Advice Fund now come from the DAF, but some people are hesitant about picking up the phone.
So from October 2021, the Welsh Government tried a new approach. If the applicant agrees, Citizens Advice will call them within a few hours of their DAF application. The team also launched ‘warm transfers’ in November, ensuring people are offered the chance to be connected ‘real time’ to an adviser at Citizens Advice.
“One of our tenants in her 60s had been washing her clothes in the bath for years. Within three days of applying we found out she’d been successful and her new washing machine arrived that weekend. She was over the moon. I can’t put it into words how beneficial DAF is.”
The DAF is supported by 700 third sector partners, including housing associations, community groups and charities. They help their customers to make applications, mostly for essential items.
Recent improvements include dedicated online channels, enabling each organisation to track the progress of their customers’ applications and see the overall picture of support. They are clear that the speed of support is a major benefit, helping to stabilise people’s lives at critical moments:
“We recently applied for a grant for someone and found she was eligible for a cooker, bed, fridge and freezer. It had a dramatic impact on her.” ~ Rahila Hamid, EYST, a charity that supports minority groups in Swansea.
Since the start, the DAF has been run from Wrexham. There are now 52 people managing the dual-language service, and some have been there from the start. That includes Lois Harrison, who joined as a Modern Apprentice and is now a senior member of the team.
So far, the DAF has supported 20 Modern Apprenticeships. Ella Matthews is in her first year:
“It’s a great opportunity to help people who are in a tough situation. Hopefully the work that we are doing is making people’s lives a lot easier by taking away some of the worry about money.”