(2) what steps are being taken to ensure that the appeal process for refused social fund applications is accessible and easy to use;
(3) what process applicants must go through to prove their eligibility for a crisis loan;
(4) what steps are being taken to ensure that those living in rural communities can easily access a crisis loan;
(5) whether those visiting Jobcentre Plus to access a crisis loan are offered an alternative to a telephone claim.
The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.
Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 29 November 2007:
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply direct to your questions asking about the criteria used to assess eligibility for crisis loans, the process applicants must go through to prove their eligibility to crisis loans, what steps are being taken to ensure that the appeal process is accessible and easy to use, steps being taken to ensure those living in rural communities can easily access a crisis loan and whether those visiting Jobcentre Plus to access a crisis loan are offered an alternative to a telephone claim. These are things that fall within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
The criteria used to assess eligibility for a crisis loan are that the applicant:
has immediate short term needs in an emergency or as a consequence of a disaster;
is 16 or over and has no other means or getting help; and
shows that a crisis loan is the only way that serious damage to their own health or safety or that of their family can be avoided.
Applicants must prove their eligibility for a crisis loan by providing a Jobcentre Plus decision maker with sufficient information to determine their application. Our preferred method of taking this information is by telephone where the customer requires a loan for living expenses. However, those customers unable to use the telephone, or where money is being requested to buy an item or service, should submit a written application by post or in person. Irrespective of the method of application, applicants have to provide full details of their circumstances and the effect of the emergency or disaster. They must also give details of their financial situation including other possible sources of help.
Jobcentre Plus is sensitive to the needs of those customers living in rural communities. Many Jobcentre Plus offices already offer a crisis loan application service by telephone and travel warrants can be provided to those customers who have no money to meet fares incurred in collecting their payment from a Jobcentre Plus office.
Customers who visit a Jobcentre Plus office are advised about the benefits of the telephone application process, including the availability of the free phone number. If this does not suit the customer, they can make a written crisis loan application.
The review process that applies to the discretionary social fund is straightforward and widely publicised in Jobcentre Plus leaflets, application forms and decision letters. To request a review of a decision, applicants need to write to Jobcentre Plus. A review is then conducted which normally involves an interview over the telephone. If after the review decision, they are still dissatisfied with the outcome of their application they can write to the Independent Review Service for a further review.
I hope this is helpful.