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Social Fund Schemes

Volume 558: debated on Monday 11 February 2013

I am pleased to announce that later today we intend to lay regulations to include universal credit in the list of qualifying benefits that currently act as an initial gateway to the three regulated social fund schemes (i.e. the Sure Start maternity grants, funeral payments and cold weather payments). The other qualifying criteria that also apply to these schemes will continue as now with some modifications being made to the cold weather payment scheme.

As universal credit is both an in and out of work benefit and does not exactly mirror the existing income-related benefits, the cold weather payment scheme has had to be modified. In addition, to ensure that the underlying principles behind the scheme continue to apply—that additional support is given to help the most vulnerable with the extra costs associated with heating the home during severe weather periods—a further qualifying criterion has been introduced for recipients of universal credit, which restricts access to those not in employment. An exception to this criterion has been made for families with a disabled child or children.

Two further changes have been made to the funeral payment scheme. The first relates to the introduction of universal credit. Because elements for housing benefit will be included in the universal credit assessment and payments will be made monthly, changes must be made to prevent any final benefit arrears owing to the deceased from extinguishing an award being made to the person taking responsibility for the funeral. The second change removes council tax benefit from the list of qualifying benefits that currently act as an initial gateway to the scheme following the decision to abolish council tax benefit from 1 April 2013 in favour of localised provision.

With the exception of the cold weather payment scheme, all the changes are due to come into effect from 1 April 2013 to ensure the changes are in place for the commencement of the universal credit pathfinder. The changes relating to cold weather payments will come into effect from the start of the winter season 1 November 2013.