Headlines: July 22nd, 2010

The National Audit Office says the Community Care Grant is helping vulnerable people establish themselves in the community but that as it stands the scheme does not deliver value for money. In a report today the NAO says the Grant is easing exceptional pressure on families and was deliberately designed to be flexible but points to savings that could be made.

Under the 141 million pound scheme, the report says, vulnerable people can claim money to pay for essential household items. Staff from Jobcentre Plus prioritise the requests but the agency cannot be sure that people who apply are those most in need. The NAO says inequities in budgets set for district offices also mean some high priority claims are refused because of the limited funds available locally.

The volume of claims that are never likely to receive funding but which have to be assessed add considerably to the administrative burden. The Jobcentre Plus employees are praised for handling cases with sensitivity in spite of the large number of applications but, the report says, they have to base their decisions on what has been stated on the application form, making it difficult to identify claims that have been overstated. Jobcentre Plus does not know the extent of any fraud as there are no checks on how the money is spent.

The NAO acknowledges that the Department of Work and Pensions does not fully accept the report’s conclusions as it believes the nature of a discretionary scheme means there will be variations in the way judgments are exercised. The Department believes operating the scheme in a more rigid, uniform way would fail to meet the needs of the vulnerable people it is designed to assist.