With the end of the Social Fund following the introduction of the new welfare reform bill, those who would previously applied to the social fund for financial assistance in times of emergency are now finding it ever more difficult to work out who to turn to in a disaster.

Historically, anyone who lived in the UK and was classed as being habitually resident in the United Kingdom was able to apply for a Crisis Loan from the Government to pay for food and fuel if they had no money, and no other means of support. Crisis Loans were a part of the Discretionary social fund and were typically, interest free same day payments of up to £1500 that could be applied for and decided over the telephone, however the New Welfare Reform bill has seen the Crisis Loan provision scrapped and replaced with Local Welfare Provision.

Local Welfare assistance is provided by Councils, and Local authorities across the UK and is funded by grants from Central Government in much the same way as the Social fund used to be, but there is a catch- Local Authorities have been given virtual autonomy over the criteria that would make an applicant eligible for a cash loan, in addition to how the assistance is delivered.

Whilst most Councils still offer cash loans at times of crisis, some have adopted food vouchers. Birmingham City Council announced last week that they will be offering pre paid ASDA top up cards in place of cash payments from 24/5/2013, and that applications for help with Gas and Electricity top-up meters will be provided by PayPoint top ups at the Council Office in an effort to reduce the number of people applying for a Crisis Loan and using the money for unintended items or services.

If you are awaiting a new claim to income based benefit including Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment Support Allowance or Pension Credit, you may be able to still apply to parts of the discretionary Social Fund.

Although the majority of Crisis Loan payments have been devolved to Local Authorities, some elements of the scheme remain under the control of the Department for Work and Pensions, these include budgeting Advances and Short Term Benefit Advances.

Budgeting Advance if the name given to the replacement for the old Budgeting Loan scheme that used to provide larger loans to people who were on benefits and who were finding it difficult to save up for larger items. The new scheme is virtually identical to the previous scheme in that, to apply you need to have been claiming an income based benefit for the last 26 weeks, and you are limited to the maximum loan amount of £1500.

Short Term Benefit Advances are the new payments that have replaced a specific set of Crisis Loans call Alignment to Benefit Loans, these were paid in advance of applications being processed for the main benefits and were designed to ensure that those waiting for the first payments of benefit were not without income. Short term Benefit Advances are paid in the same way as alignment Crisis Loans, however you can only get them if you directly ask for one at the point of making a claim, or advising of a change in your income.

You can read more about the Crisis Loan scheme at Crisis Loan Help or you can find out about either the STBA or Budgeting Advance schemes Budgeting Advance