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 responsibility for emergency financial support. Unlike in England, where it varies from council to council, support is available on the same terms to everyone in Wales.
The Fund provides two types of grant:
To make sure support was delivered fast and consistently in every community, the Welsh Government wanted to work with a single partner. They asked NEC to deliver it, working with Wrexham County Borough Council and Family Fund Trading Ltd.
Since then, they’ve processed more than one million applications quickly so the Welsh
Government can support 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 Ministers can make short-term changes quickly and fairly. This 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 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 is trying a new approach. If the applicant agrees, Citizens Advice will call them within a few hours of their DAF application. The team will also launch ‘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.”