Extra cash for Christmas bonus
Up to £57,000 in extra cash is to be put into the grant scheme to help those in need.
Trustees of the Shetland Charitable Trust agreed to add extra funds to the Financial Hardship Scheme (formally the Christmas grant scheme) after the budget was cut earlier this year from £361,800 to £100,000.
Members at yesterday’s meeting were told an estimated 520 grants of £300 each could be payable in 2014 – totalling £156,000.
A report from chief executive Ann Black said an additional £1,000 may be needed for external administration fees for carrying out financial hardship checks.
In February trustees agreed to reduce the budget to £100,000 – which would be used to help the most vulnerable people who were receiving the Christmas bonus.
At that meeting Dr Black said that if additional funds were needed for the grant scheme, then a report would come in front of trustees.
Trustees voted by seven to three to pare back the figure – despite impassioned pleas from a minority of trustees, led by Allison Duncan.
Trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills moved to accept an option that would see the fund reduced and assistance aimed at younger people in need.
But Mr Duncan said by agreeing the motion, the trust was “attacking the most vulnerable in society”.
He said it was an “attack on our senior citizens” at a time when they were suffering fuel poverty and struggling with one of the poorest state pensions in the European Union.
But chairman Bobby Hunter said the reduction was “not about saving money, it was about putting it in the right place”.
Trustees heard how the grant had become difficult to administer – due to changes in the benefit system and external agencies. Mr Hunter said it was no longer equitable.
Trustee Drew Ratter backed Dr Wills’ motion and said it was sad to see the end of the scheme, which had been around since the early days of the trust, but the world “had changed massively since the scheme was first devised”.
According to papers at the meeting yesterday the first payments of the amended scheme are to be made at the end of October.
Mr Hunter said applications for money had been received and assessed and Dr Wills said he was happy to move the recommendation for extra funds – as this was in line with the trust’s policy in targeting money where it was most needed.
“I was on the other side at first, I’m now satisfied this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Trustee Betty Fullerton seconded Dr Wills.
Mr Hunter made a special thanks to social work staff and staff at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who had carried out the assessments.
In May a 1,600-strong petition was handed to Mr Hunter by Lerwick pensioner Sandy McMillan, following fears over a cutback to the scheme.
Mr McMillan collected signatures from across the isles, gathering support
over three months after the decision was made.
His petition called on the trust to re-examine its decision and have the full bonus, which has been handed out since 1979, reinstated.
But Mr Hunter explained to Mr McMillan that people would be means-tested for the £300 grant.
He said the means-tested approach by CAB and social workers would mean money could be “targeted for those most in need”.
If the £100,000 was not enough, more money would be asked for, Mr Hunter said.
After speaking to Mr Hunter, Mr McMillan said the public could have been better informed by the charitable trust about the change.
He said he thought a means test was going to “put a lot of older people off coming forward” for the bonus.
But Mr Hunter said letters had been sent out to folk about the bonus and means testing, and the indication was folk wanted to be assessed.