Scottish Welfare Reform Advisory Service (SCOTWRAS)

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Shelter Scotland have set up a phone and online service for frontline support workers called SCOTWRAS to help clients to navigate changes to the benefits system, housing and money issues. Benefits, housing and debt are often connected so it makes sense to think and talk about them together.

The service covers an introduction to welfare benefits, housing and debt for frontline advice and support staff in Scotland. The advisory service is intended to help workers support their client to:

  • know what changes to the benefits system are ahead that may affect people’s money or housing
  • help you spot possible and existing debt and money issues for your client and suggest ways of managing these
  • check ways of preventing evictions and homelessness
  • signpost for further help.

How to use the service

Visit the website, call the advice line or email.

Case examples

Some recent examples of queries received by the  service may give you an idea of when to contact SCOTWRAS for help:

A Drug and Alcohol Project called and spoke to Angela (a Money/Debt Adviser on the service ). Their client had rent arrears due to under-occupancy and had received a letter regarding this, but the support worker did not have it with her.  However, the client had succeeded the tenancy in 1996 and had received continuous Housing Benefit since then.  Angela advised the support worker to contact the Local Authority regarding the bedroom tax loophole (1), quoting the relevant legislation which was in effect until March 2014.  (N.B. This loophole has now been closed.)

(1) Tenants receiving Housing Benefit (HB) who are under pension age, who have lived at the same address since 1996, and who have been in receipt of HB throughout that time (with any break in HB not exceeding four weeks)  may have ‘inherited’ a claim for HB from family members living at the same property, provided that the current claimant has resided at the property since 1996 and provided that both the original and the current claimant, between them, have sustained a continuous claim throughout with any break not exceeding four weeks.

A caller to ScotWRAS was seeking advice for single parent female with 6 children living in private rented sector (PRS) accommodation.The client was affected by the Benefit Cap which came into force in July/Aug 2013 and was struggling to manage her PRS rent.

The caller was already assisting the client with a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) application, which was pending. In the meantime, the client was looking for other accommodation that she could afford in the long term. She had applied to the Local Authority for housing; this application was taken but suspended based on the fact the client had former PRS and secure tenancy debts relating to arrears and damage costs. The caller was seeking advice on options for the client as she wants to move from the PRS home but cannot access other housing due to these suspension rules.

The housing adviser at ScotWRAS was able to inform the caller about the legal basis for the Local Authority’s decision to suspend the application for rehousing. In relation to former tenancy debt, an application can be suspended unti:

  • a) a suitable repayment arrangement has been made;
  • b) there have been payments to this arrangement for at least 3 months; and
  • c) that these payments continue thereafter[1].

Once the client has complied with these terms, any suspension on the basis of tenancy debt should be lifted.         

The caller was also supported by ScotWRAS in providing homelessness advice to the client. Someone who has a home can make a homeless application to the Local Council, if their current accommodation is not reasonable to occupy[2]. The homeless service should investigate whether the client’s current accommodation may be unreasonable for her to continue to live in based on its affordability. If the Local Authority’s decision goes against the client, they have the right to request the Local Authority to review this[3]. The basis of pursuing a homeless application would be to access temporary accommodation and seek a level of priority for an offer of affordable social housing, supporting the client in a move away from costly PRS.

[1] These rules lie within the terms of Section 20 (2A) (b) of the Housing Scotland Act 1987, as amended by the 2001 Act.

[2] The reasonableness to occupy falls within the Housing Scotland Act 1987 Part 24 (2A).

[3] The right to request a review falls within the Housing Scotland Act 1987 Part 35A