The Furniture Re-use Network says a recent survey shows two-thirds of its members believe that a new social fund replacement system to help people in crisis will not be in place for the start of April.
The discretionary social fund – which provides grants and zero-interest loans to help vulnerable people with essential outlays (such as beds, cots or cookers) or deal with sudden costs incurred in a crisis, such as family breakdown – will be abolished. From April, some of the responsibility and funding for helping people in need will be transferred to local authorities, which will be entitled, but not obliged, to operate their own schemes.
Furniture re-use charities, many of whom have been in existence for 30 years – who have supported low income households and people in crisis with the provision of low cost furniture and household goods – believe their local authority won’t be ready to deal with, or meet demand.
Re-use charities – which exist to help alleviate material poverty – fear they may be overwhelmed with demand for essential household items such as beds, from individuals and families, but won’t have the means to help. Lack of local authority consultation could mean that people are signposted to re-use charities without checking if the charity has the means to deal not only with furniture supply, but the anticipated increase in enquiries.
FRN believes that there is also the distinct possibility that when people are signposted to reuse charities, that this will be done with the expectation that the charity will subsidise all costs and would be able to shoulder the financial burden when the state will not help.
Each authority should have drawn up eligibility rules, setting out who will qualify for crisis help and the conditions under which it will be given. Local authorities are working with a much reduced budget which restricts both the eligibility criteria and the range of goods which it can supply to each household.
With a long history of supporting people in need and vast experience that could have helped local authorities prepare for the change, we were disappointed to find that 57% of FRN members rated their local authority’s response and action in introducing the social fund replacement as either non-existent (18%), or poor (39%) and that only 49% of local authorities had actually made any contact with their local furniture re-use charity.
In relation to the high expectation of what charities can do to support those in need 12% of re-use charities had been asked to provide goods free of charge and 13% have been asked to provide goods at prices lower than they normally charge.
Finally 67% of the re-use charities believed that a new system would not be in place to help people in crisis in time for April 2013.
The concern for re-use charities is what happens to those people in need who won’t meet the strict eligibility criteria. Also, where re-use charities would enable limited budgets to stretch further because pre-used quality furniture is supplied, many are finding that local authorities have by-passed them completely and are sending claimants to high street stores to buy new goods.
When 10 million furniture items are thrown away each year, the charitable re-use sector re-uses 2.6 million and an additional 2 million could be re-used; the lack of joined-up policy thinking on waste and welfare, and the lack of financial creativity to make limited funds go that bit further are very apparent.