Financial help from Scottish local authorities and others

10 mins read

Apart from benefits that are provided by the Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC or Social Security Scotland, families in Scotland may also be able to access some financial support from their local council.

In this article

The Scottish Welfare Fund

The Scottish Welfare Fund provides grants to help low income families in Scotland. Anyone on a low income can apply – you don’t necessarily need to be on benefits. There are three types of grant:

Crisis Grants

These provide help with living costs such as food or heating in an emergency. For example, you can get a crisis grant if you are facing an emergency such as a fire or flood, or because you have lost your money or some other crisis. It can also be awarded if you have taken over the care of a child and you’re waiting for their benefits to be transferred.

Community Care Grants

These are grants to help you or someone you care for to pay for items needed to live a settled life in the community. For example, you may be awarded a grant to buy white goods such as a cooker or fridge.

It can be awarded where a child’s health is at risk, or if you’re a family under exceptional pressures as well as where help is needed to keep someone out of care or help them resettle in the community after a period in care. Your chances of getting a Community Care grant will be reduced if you have savings of more than £700 (£1,200 if you have a state pension).

Self Isolation Support Grant 

From 12 October, people in Scotland who are asked to self isolate by the Test and Protect Service and who cannot work from home and who lose money as a result will be able to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund for a £500 payment. The grant is targeted at those on low income benefits but there will be some discretion for councils to award a grant to others who are on low incomes and facing hardship. 

How do I apply for a grant?

In order to apply for a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund you need to contact your council. If you are unhappy with a decision on your application, you can ask your council to review their decision. You should do this within 20 days. If you are still not happy with the review decision, you can then ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to look at the decision.

If I qualify for a grant will this be paid in cash?

Not necessarily. If you are awarded a crisis or community care grant you may get cash or your council may instead provide you with the items you need. Some councils make payments using pre-paid cards or vouchers.

Help with Council Tax

There are three separate schemes offering help with council tax. Two of these schemes, the council tax discount scheme and the disability reduction scheme, apply not only in Scotland but across the whole of Great Britain. You can also find out more details about these two schemes in our free parent guide to Help with Council Tax Bills [PDF].

The third scheme – known as the council tax reduction scheme – is specific to Scotland. Under this scheme people on a low income who are liable to pay council tax, can apply to their local council for help towards their council tax bill.

If you get certain mean-tested benefits such as Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit, you will normally automatically qualify for help with 100% of costs. However, this might be reduced if you have other adults who are not your partner living with you.

If you do not qualify for a reduction automatically because you are on a means-tested benefit, you will be subject to a means test. This means that the amount of help awarded will depend on your income and savings (and those of your partner if you have one) as well as your family circumstances. You can’t qualify for a council tax reduction if you have more than £16,000 in capital (unless you get the guarantee credit of Pension Credit).

Contact your local council to apply for help with council tax.

Discretionary Housing Payments

If you get help with rent costs from Universal Credit or Housing Benefit but the amount doesn’t cover your full housing costs, you may be able to get some help to meet the shortfall from your local council. This is known as a Discretionary Housing Payment.

So for example you may wish to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment if:

Do I have a right to a Discretionary Housing Payment?

No. These payments are at the discretion of the local authority so you have no legal right to them. Whether you get a payment and if so, how much, is at the discretion of the local authority. Payments are also made for a temporary period so you may need to reapply for help periodically.

The Scottish Government has provided extra funding to councils so that they can use Discretionary Housing Payments to compensate people in social housing affected by the bedroom tax. This means that if you’re affected by the bedroom tax and apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment your local council is expected to give you one.

How do I apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment?

You need to apply via your local council. The way you do this will vary depending on your council’s own policy. You are likely to be asked for information about your household income and how much you spend every month.

Help with school meals

Every child in Scotland who is in primary 1,2, 3 or 4 at a local council school can get free school lunches. This applies to all children in these year groups – it doesn’t matter what income your family has.

After primary 4, your child may be able to get free school meals if you are on a low income and receive certain benefits. These are:

If you are not receiving one of the above mentioned benefits you won’t normally qualify for free school meals. However, an exception might apply in certain circumstances where you are experiencing financial hardship. For example, where your immigration status means you can’t get help from the government or you’re still waiting on your first Universal Credit notice.

If you’re experiencing difficulty with the cost of school meals for any reason, contact your local council to find out more.

What about children under school age?

If your child is under school age but in early learning or childcare, they will qualify for a free lunch if you get any of the following benefits:

Even if you don’t get one of these benefits, your child can also get free lunches if at any point since they were aged two they’ve been looked after by the local authority or had a Kinship Care Order or had a Guardianship Order. Contact your child’s nursery or your local council for more information.

What about 16-18 year olds who claim benefits as a young adult?

If you’re 16-18 years old and receive any of the above benefits in your own right, you can claim free school lunches.

What’s happening during the coronavirus outbreak?

During the coronavirus outbreak, schools will continue to provide free school meals to children who are eligible even if they are not attending school. This will also apply during the summer holidays. However, this only applies to those children who qualify because their family is on a low-income benefit. Primary 1-4 children who are not attending school will not qualify automatically.

During the coronavirus outbreak free school meals may be provided by cash payments, supermarket vouchers, food parcels or any other method that the school or council decides is most appropriate.

Children aged six or above on free school meals and bridging payments

If you qualify on low income grounds for free school meals for a child who is aged six or over, you should receive bridging payments from your local authority for that child. These bridging payments are period lump sum payments. The amount paid over a year is equivalent to £10 per week and this money is to make up for the fact that the Scottish Child Payment does not currently apply to children aged under six.

Two bridging payments of £100 have already been made. Two further payments of £160 per child will be made in October and December. In 2022 four equal payments of £130 will be made at the start of each school holiday.

Bridging payments are made by your local authority and will normally be paid automatically. To qualify, your child must attend a council school and qualify for free school meals on the basis of low income. If your child gets free school meals on the basis of universal entitlement for all children in primary 1-4 you will need to contact your local authority and apply on the basis of low income.

School clothing grant

Depending on your income and where in Scotland you live, you may be able to get a school clothing grant from your local council. This is a lump sum payment to help you buy your child’s school clothing and shoes.

Who qualifies for a grant and how much you will get depends on your local council. The rules vary because each council sets its own rules. However, everyone who gets a school clothing grant must get at least £100. This is normally a cash payment made directly to your bank account.

If your child is starting primary 1 you may also be able to apply for a Best Start Grant school age payment.

Help preparing for adulthood: ILF Scotland transition grant

Independent Living Foundation (ILF) Scotland provide a Transition grant to help disabled young people aged 16-25 become more independent as they move into adulthood.