Charitable trust grant to pensioners unlikely to continue in present form

Ann Black
SCT chief executive Ann Black: “worst deprivation not exclusively among pensioners”.

A means-tested £300 Christmas grant paid out to hundreds of pensioners and disabled people is unlikely to continue beyond December in its present form, according to Shetland Charitable Trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills.

His remark came as trustees uniformly backed a report from SCT chief executive Ann Black suggesting the grant should be dished out to everyone who qualified last year – provided they can prove their circumstances have not changed.

A £432,000 budget remains in place to cover this year’s grant, which has been paid in one form or another since the trust’s inception in 1976. Trustees yesterday morning agreed to commission a review examining “ways of spending the money differently”.

Similarly to an unpopular move resulting in the closure of Shetland Youth Information Services (SYIS) in February, trust chairman Bobby Hunter stressed the latest proposal is not about cost-cutting.

Ms Black’s report stated that the scheme was “not necessarily targeting the correct client group”. Recent studies show that the worst deprivation in Shetland is “not necessarily exclusively among pensioners or the disabled”.

Pensioners receiving pension credit, council tax benefit or housing benefit are eligible. Disabled applicants receiving means-tested benefits have been able to “self-certify” that they qualify for the Christmas grant.

But with the UK welfare system undergoing a major overhaul, trust staff are finding it increasingly costly and time-consuming to determine who is and is not eligible.

Ms Black described administering the scheme as “very cumbersome”, taking up “a great deal” of staff time. Admin costs in 2012 were estimated to be £13,000.

Her report stated: “This is likely to increase, as trust staff do not have expertise in the benefit system, which is changing rapidly. Shetland Islands Council’s benefits staff, who have previously been helpful, have indicated that they do not have the capacity to provide the level of support which they have given in previous years.”

The scheme is to be closed to new applicants while the review considers “ways in which the trust’s resources could be better targeted towards areas of need in which the trust can legally assist”.

Mr Hunter said: “There is no suggestion whatsoever that we’re going to do away with this amount of money. It’s not a savings exercise. What we’re doing is evaluating the existing scheme and seeing if there’s a better way of doing it.”

Asked how he envisioned a rebooted scheme operating, Mr Hunter said it was “an open book”. “We’re looking to target the money at needy folk, be they young, old, disabled.”

SCT vice-chairman Jonathan Wills.
SCT vice-chairman Jonathan Wills: “population at large understands why we have to do this”.

Dr Wills told this newspaper the Christmas grant had become “extremely expensive and complicated to administer”.

“I can’t see it [the existing Christmas grant] surviving in the long term. I don’t see any way of doing it without paying very large sums to George Osborne,” he said. “The charitable trust does not exist to support the Inland Revenue, so we need to use the money in a way that benefits those most in need.

 “We can no longer rely on government or council staff to provide accurate details of who qualifies and who doesn’t. We’re going to have to look, with regret, at other ways of spending it.”

The grant became means-tested in 2009 to avoid paying a hefty tax bill. That came after the Inland Revenue indicated that if money was being handed out to the well-off, in addition to the needy, the scheme was not eligible for charitable tax relief.

Dr Wills said “ignoramuses” on the comments section of this newspaper’s website were “already saying we’re very bad people”. But he is confident the “population at large understands why we have to do this”.

He is open to ideas from the community for how the £432,000 budget could be better spent from 2014 onwards. Dr Wills has already heard suggestions that some of the money could go on children or young adults with additional support needs (ASN), or on more youth work.

Speaking during yesterday’s trust meeting in Islesburgh, appointed trustee Ian Kinniburgh had reservations about how the SCT could “sit in judgement about whose need is greater than others’”.

“That becomes quite a subjective decision,” he said, “so we need to be very careful about how we do that. Although the DWP is changing, people in receipt of benefits will presumably be fairly readily able to prove they are in receipt. There must be some kind of simply-gathered proof that would meet, for instance, HMRC’s criteria.”

Mr Kinniburgh added that regardless of how any revamped scheme was administered, it would come at a cost. Mr Hunter said Mr Kinniburgh’s concerns were “valid”, and he pledged the review would seek to “create a methodology of being fair and equitable”.


Add Your Comment
  • Stewart Mac

    • June 26th, 2013 12:04

    I am aghast it costs £13,000 in staff costs to administer the Christmas grant?? So thats the equivelent of effectively one full time admin assistant (albeit a junior) working all year to dish out a Christmas grant? How can that possibly be right? I would perhaps be looking more at the notional costings if it costs that much time to administer this, or any other scheme the Trust operates.

  • paul barlow

    • June 26th, 2013 12:48

    from their accounts of 2012
    14 staff members wages 465,000 =£33250 average wage. thats a pretty decent wage.

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 26th, 2013 12:55

    Thats about 6 months of a junior asst or 3 months of a higher paid employee, I would think

  • Stewart Mac

    • June 26th, 2013 14:37

    I had typed a rather large (and possibly excessive) response which i have now deleted. Probably for the best.

    But in the meantime i’m sure rather than them question whether the current procedures constitute good value or not, the SCT will carry on and throw the baby out with the bathwater as an old saying goes. Lets hope with the speed and regularity the old, infirm and incapable of Shetland are being attacked they remember at least to bring the Bath back in with them.

    Best of luck to the pensioners, it seems they will need it now more than ever – I’m left wondering what “Charitable” functions will soon be left for the Trust in the months and years ahead if not to help the most needy in our Society

  • Barbara johnson

    • June 26th, 2013 16:17

    To make one payment a year for a few hundred pensioners costs £13,000 pounds,that really shows they are not getting value for money from there staff-this is where they should be cutting back on NOT,the poor pensioners.Maybe they could take on a student and do the the work for them at minimal cost.Shame on you.

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 27th, 2013 9:17

    I had to check on the website re the charitable aims because of this story and the website needs updated as it no longer supports SYIS and Springfield. Can this money saved also be distributed somehow to the needy, when the details of the new welfare system now in place is worked out, and not used as further propping up of the SIC or windmills?

  • Wayne Conroy

    • June 27th, 2013 11:24

    Great idea! Commission a review examining “ways of spending the money differently”
    Maybe outside consultants could be brought in to offer their expert advise? Perhaps the money could be used for windmills, Mareel or maybe Brough Lodge?

    Or, I’m thinking outside the box here, maybe use the money to restore some of the services that have been taken away from the old, young and vulnerable this past year.


  • Barbara johnson

    • June 28th, 2013 19:56

    Just because i’m a pensioner Mr Wills I’m not ignorant,re paper today Mr Wills name calling Ignoramuses-He states a large part of the population understands, maybe he should start mixing with the poorer population.If you read local paper how come everything seems to be booming work wise,this council is getting more Tory everyday,hit the poor and elderly.

  • Anne Finlayson

    • August 30th, 2013 14:58

    I think the proposal to remove the Christmas Grant from the Elderly and Disabled is disgraceful. Many households rely on this small amount of extra money at what is a very expensive time of year, to manage a few extra bits and pieces in their food shopping, and also maybe to buy a few small gifts for grandchildren etc. It is hardly the fault of these people that the Government’s new welfare system is now so complicated that even the DWP staff themselves cannot provide accurate advice on the new, and ever changing system, and it is cold comfort to those in need that SIC staff do not have the time to familiarise themselves with the changes. Considering that ‘disabled’ folk are required to present themselves at the Charitable Trust’s office, with their DWP paperwork in hand, I fail to see why it is so difficult for SCT staff to establish entitlement, a point which I think Ian Kinniburgh was rightly trying to make.
    With regard to wealthy pensioners, my feelings are the same as for any other ‘hand-out’ to which they are ‘legally entitled’ – they should do the right thing, and turn it down, leaving it for those in REAL need. It is galling when you see pensioners rolling up in their big, expensive cars with hands outstretched, when other OAP’s cannot even afford a taxi to get their shopping home on a wet, windy, snowy day.
    As for Mr Wills, I agree with Barbara Johnson – to say that people who do not agree with his line of thinking are ‘ignoramuses’ is not only insulting, but goes to show his own ignorance of how this decision will affect a lot of people. It will certainly not affect him, but I’m far from sure that ‘the population at large’ do understand – as more and more of us get poorer, and struggle to exist from day to day it is very hard to swallow the outpourings from a ‘poor’ misunderstood SCT.
    As for where this money should go, I think young people in Shetland are already reasonably well catered for, and how many of them will have to make the decision this winter as to whether or not they can afford to put on another bar of their electric fire, or whether they can afford that small piece of fresh meat from the shop? It is a disgrace that the poor and the needy, elderly of the population are to be treated so shabbily, but hey, when it doesn’t directly affect you, who cares? As Stewart Mac rightly asks – ‘What charitable functions will be left in future for the SCT’ as, based on their current thinking, they will no longer be supporting the most poor and needy in Shetland??


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