A Lerwick pensioner who would theoretically qualify for the Christmas grant from Shetland Charitable Trust has found herself excluded because the system is under review.
Vera Clark has this year started claiming her pension, and as she is in receipt of housing benefit and council tax benefit, assumed she would be in line for the £300 grant.
But a decision was taken in June to suspend the payment to new applicants until a review of the scheme is complete – and there is no indication when this will be. Mrs Clark has now made a complaint to the trust.
Mrs Clark said she wants other new applicants to be aware of the situation because the charitable trust will not be telling them as it will not know who they are.
Now she is upset that there will be no grant for anyone in the “new applicant” category.
Mrs Clark said she accepts the need for a review and agrees that public money should be spent wisely. And, she said, she could also accept that all payment of Christmas grant be suspended until this review is complete: “This would mean that all applicants or potential applicants were treated the same.”
As it is, she said: “There must be other people in the same circumstances as myself. Anybody coming onto benefits in 2013 won’t qualify. It’s unfair and uncharitable.”
The suspension is contrary to her human rights, she believes, in which people should get fair and equal services from public authorities, and also to the stated aims of the charitable trust. These are: “to provide public benefit to and improve the quality of life for the people of Shetland, especially in the areas of social care and welfare, arts, culture, sport and recreation, the environment, natural history and heritage.” The benefit to social care and welfare is the part she deems particularly relevant.
Mrs Clark had a meeting with charitable trust chief executive Ann Black this week, but feels she is no further forward and is considering taking her complaint to charities’ regulator OSCR. She will also research the human rights implications in a situation which she feels lacks dignity, fairness, equality and respect.
Shetland Charitable Trust has a budget of £432,000 to qualifying pensioner and disabled households for this year’s Christmas grant, which will see around 1,400 payments of £300 being made.
Dr Black said in June that the money was “not necessarily targeting the correct client group”.
Trustee Bobby Hunter said at that time: “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.”
The Christmas Grant has been in place in one form or another since the formation of the trust in the 1970s.