Written evidence from the Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum CLP0040

Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum was set up to:

Our Mission

Our Mission is to involve people with direct experience of poverty in the development of partnerships between local, county, and national organisations, working towards the reduction and eradication of poverty. We work to enable individuals suffering poverty to regain control of their lives and to take their rightful place in society, utilising their talents for the benefit of their communities and ending their social exclusion.

Responses to the questions in the call for evidence from a number of CIPF members including FoodBanks, Citizens Advice and other organisations working to address poverty across Cornwall.

 

  1. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?

 

Truro Food Bank comment

Not enough to cover the essentials - many customers are on key meters or top up cards and therefore the worst tariffs.  Instead of topping up £20 a week some are doing £15 a day so staged COLC payments help but do not offset that.  In many cases customers are not using electricity but still going into debt because of high standing charges.  Some with full cooking facilities say they will not use them due to the cost...they will eat the foodbank parcel cold.  Food inflation is 20% at time of writing.  if the issue had been either spike in food costs or energy costs these payments might have helped people stay even, but with spikes in both it is not enough to cover the essentials. Hence the Trussell Trust campaign on this. See the attached data with 169 people affected in 4 weeks because they cannot afford essentials. 

 

Other Observations

COLP have undoubtedly been a help and made a difference. They have meant that some people have been able to turn on cooker and others to heat their homes when they would not have been able to do so without the payments.

Whether they have been sufficient is open to debate. The rise in inflation -especially in the cost of food -  since the first payment has not been matched with  rise in the level of the COLP. So that is a challenge.

 

In particular those who are just on basic benefit are really struggling even with the COLP.

Without additional income from either another benefit of some kind or from p/t working the COLP have not been sufficient.

 

Cornwall is well known for its housing crisis where during and post pandemic the pressure on affordable rentable accommodation was so high that rents have rocketed. Generally speaking unless you have additional benefits such as PIP you are not able to afford to rent.

Even those in temporary accommodation and who are working are expected to contribute to the cost of the hotel or BandB. The COLP have not been sufficient here. There are often extra costs such as having further to travel to work and/or school because the temporary accommodation can be several miles away from where they were previously resident.


2. What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:
a) Passporting: Not already being in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, despite being eligible, and consequentially being prevented from accessing emergency support; 

 

Truro Food Bank submitted the information below relating the most recent monthly summary of clients and the reasons for accessing their service.

AT  Truro Foodbank between April 4th and May 5th which  covers the 12 distribution sessions Truro Foodbank held in this period, the number of people fed in those 12 sessions was 661 (ie 50 per session).  Of those 661 people 169 were specifically referred because of the rising cost of living. Bearing in mind 132 were unsure or did not answer that question then it is really 169 out of 529 not 661.  Either way this new reporting format for Trussell trust foodbanks gives an indication.  Also don't forget this is to capture MAIN reason for referral.  So if someone's main reason for referral was long term sickness they would not be in the169 but might well have said the cost of living was a secondary reason for referral.

 

 

b) Cliff-edges: Not being in receipt of a certain means-tested benefit, because households failed to meet certain qualifying thresholds No Comments

.  .
c) Qualifying period anomalies: issues relating to the timing of benefit payments;

Issues arise when people are having wages  paid on a 4 weekly cycle rather than a monthly basis. This means that in some of the DWP Monthly Assessment Periods some people receive 2 wage payments and when these are added together this results in a nil award and then there is all the knock on effects for COLP and other benefits such as contributions towards NHS costs.  Over the year the amount people are paid is the same as if their wages were on a calendar month BUT the 4 weekly pattern effects the DWP assessments and payments as a consequence.


d) Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning. 

This one is significant in Truro - but it can be reductions as well as sanctions.  Eg A cleaner who cannot work any more shifts on top of earnings received £900 pcm UC This was reduced to £12 pcm when her son turned 18.  The son is in education not earning a wage. 

 


e) Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate?

The situation where people are on oil or calor gas supply for their heating. Cornwall will have one of the higher proportions of people where this is the case because of lack of distribution of mains gas.

There were delays and confused messages about how much and how the heating payments were to be made. It appears many people received their payment through it being paid to their electrical supplier. However we heard of a number of cases where electric suppliers ‘ retained £100 of the £200 payment. They justified this on the grounds that there were arrears on the people’s electric bill. HOWEVER the grant was for heating and so people should have received the full amount to put towards paying for their primary source of heating.

 

Another issue with oil is that the price varied a lot depending on the volume that was ordered. People on benefits and /or low income were not able  to afford enough to get the cheaper rate. To keep their heating going they often bought in small amounts – even by the can – This meant the Heating Payment was less value for such people.

 

Cases have been reported by  CIPF member organisations of the Heating grants going to Landlords who own the property that is rented out and some of those landlords have failed to pass the payment on to their tenants.

 


3. How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost of living support? 

This has led to challenges for people to be able to budget well. Since the time when you might receive the payment is so extended ( Eg  In the current period it runs from April 28th to May 13th ) there is a lengthy time of uncertainty over whether you have qualified for the payment or not. So it is hard to budget without the certainty of receiving the payment or knowing you will not be getting and having to budget accordingly 


4. Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?  No Comments

 

 

May 2023