Vulnerable people across the UK could be entitled to extra financial support from the Flexible Support Fund (FSF).
The money can be used for a variety of purposes, but the fund itself isn’t particularly well known, especially by those who need it the most.
This is everything you need to know about the Flexible Support Fund, from who is eligible to how to apply.
What is the Flexible Support Fund?
The FSF was introduced in 2011, and it replaced other initiatives like the Deprived Areas Fund, the Adviser Discretion Fund, and the Travel to Interview scheme.
Money gets distributed into the fund via the government, which is then managed by local job centres. The purpose of the money is to help give job centres more freedom to offer support to individuals in local areas.
The government states that it’s up to local job centres to make people aware of the fund, but some organisations have expressed concerns that the fund isn’t being properly publicised.
The Social Security Advisory Committee has previously stated its concerns about how little is known about the FSF, and has suggested that its low profile has allowed opportunities for partnerships with local authorities and agencies to be missed.
An investigation carried out by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found that advisers in a Universal Credit contact centre in Bolton were choosing not to inform claimants of the FSF.
What can the fund be used for?
The money can be used to cover the costs of things such as:
Training for a job (up to £150)Travelling to interviewChildcareTools for workCost of medical evidence required by a disabled personClothing and uniforms to start workSupport for single parents in financial emergencies experienced in the first 26 weeks of starting a job
Unfortunately, if you have already paid for these items, then you’re unlikely to be awarded any money from the FSF in backpay.
How much can I claim - and do I have to pay it back?
There is no set amount that can be claimed - instead, recipients of the fund will have the money awarded on a case by case basis.
For those who are awarded money from the fund, it is classified as a grant, not a loan, therefore you do not have to pay it back at a later date.
You can choose to be paid either in cash, or have the money transferred into your bank account. Once you have received the money, you’ll then have 14 days to provide the job centre with the receipts of any goods or services you paid for using the fund.
Who can apply?
The fund is available to anyone who receives help from the job centre, and is claiming one of the qualifying benefits:
Universal CreditJobseeker’s AllowanceIncome SupportEmployment and Support AllowanceCarers AllowancePension CreditIncapacity Benefit
The FSF is also available to anyone who is eligible for Work Preparation Support, such as lone parents, partners and carers, for example.
Others also potentially eligible to receive support from the fund include:
Those aged 16 or 17, not in employment, education or or training (i.e NEET)Those receiving one of the following: Housing Benefit, Bereavement Allowance, Child Tax Credit, Maternity Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Child Benefit (including Guardian’s Allowance)
You’re not eligible for the extra money if you’re getting help from the Work Programme, Work Choice or any legacy benefits that provide the same support.
You’re allowed to claim the fund more than once, but the second application will likely be even more rigorous in order to prove that more money will help you attain a job.
How to apply
If you think that you’re entitled to get some help from the FSF, then you can apply for it by contacting your local job centre. Claimants don’t have an automatic right to the fund, so it’s up to the discretion of your job centre adviser.
You’ll need to outline exactly what you’ll be spending the money on, and you’ll also need to provide evidence that you cannot pay for these items yourself. The adviser will need to get approval from a colleague, who will also check the evidence that you’ve submitted.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site The Scotsman