National reforms

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger are lobbying for reforms at a national level to stem the tide of hunger. Each of these reforms, if enacted, would help reduce the need for people to rely on food banks in order to stave off hunger. Feeding Britain supports this process by gathering evidence and highlighting the issues of concern to organisations working around the country to combat hunger.

These are some of the progress that the APPG, with support from Feeding Britain, has been able to make to date:

Ofcom now provides a consumers’ guide to the Department for Work and Pensions with advice on the best value phone deals, and tips on how to keep costs down, so this can be shared with people making a new benefit claim. It is currently working on a debt advice guide which it will also share with DWP.

The Financial Conduct Authority now requires payday loan brokers to amend their privacy policies. It has passed regulations covering practices such as imposing charges that consumers often knew nothing about until they checked their bank account. Payday loan brokers cannot now request an individual’s bank details or take a payment from their account without their explicit consent first. Payday loan brokers will also have to include their legal name, not just their trading name, in all advertising and other communications with customers, and state prominently in their adverts that they are a broker, not a lender.

The Financial Conduct Authority has acted to curb the activities of high-cost money lenders, and has introduced measures to abolish the use of higher-rate telephone numbers by money lenders, credit card companies and banks.

Ofwat is encouraging more water suppliers to offer social tariffs to poorer customers who find they can no longer afford their bills after being put on a water meter. It is encouraging also all water companies not to use higher-rate telephone numbers.

In December 2014 and January 2015 Feeding Britain lobbied Ofgem, the gas and electricity regulator, on the need for a fairer deal for those households relying on a prepayment meter. They have since agreed to:

  • Review the charges levied upon households wishing to switch from a prepayment meter to another tariff. Ofgem accepts that these charges of up to £60 plus a security deposit of up to £150 ‘can act as a barrier to accessing cheaper payment methods for those that cannot afford to pay them’.
  • Review the provision of telephone services by energy companies, including the use of higher-rate telephone numbers and the costs borne by households needing to call their supplier.
  • Question energy companies about the lack of choice available to poorer households on prepayment meters, who currently have a narrow range of tariffs to choose from.
  • Oblige energy companies to allow prepayment customers with debts not exceeding £200 to switch to another company offering a better deal.
  • Consider the proposal in Feeding Britain for an industry-wide minimum standard for helping poorer households who build up debt on their prepayment meter through unpaid standing charges that build up through the summer months.

Ofgem is also enforcing a cap on the costs of gas and electricity paid by households on prepayment meters, which is likely to save those households an average of £90 a year between now and 2020.

We have also begun to secure commitments from the Government:

HM Revenue and Customs has protected households in receipt of tax credits who need to report a change of circumstances, by reforming its administrative processes. The gap between closing an existing claim and setting a new claim in hand has been cut from eight weeks, to eight days.

HM Revenue and Customs has similarly protected households making a new Child Benefit claim, by introducing a new digital mechanism which saves families from having to send original documents, such as their child’s birth certificate, when making a new claim. This will eliminate the likelihood of delays occurring.

The Troubled Families Programme is accepting direct referrals from schools in cases where children arrive to lessons hungry.

The Prime Minister has initiated a review of modern working practices, including the effectiveness of zero-hours contracts.

The Department for Work and Pensions is introducing measures to improve the publicity of emergency benefit payments, and to ensure claimants are proactively told about this discretionary support by their Jobcentre Plus adviser.

The Department for Work and Pensions is piloting a ‘Yellow Card’ early warning system for people who risk being sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions is fixing the IT system to ensure claimants do not lose their Housing Benefit if they have been sanctioned. The relevant Local Authority will see that it is a ‘sanction’ rather than ‘cessation’, and so the Housing Benefit claim remains unaffected.

The Department for Work and Pensions is seeking ways of rolling out nationally the Reformed Welfare Contract that has been developed by Feeding Birkenhead.

The Department for Education is to use £3.1 million from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England. The funding will be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free school meal eligibility, and will be spread between now and 2020. It is subject to final agreement from the European Commission. Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has agreed to implement a consistent set of rules for all energy suppliers involved with the Warm Home Discount – which requires the major energy suppliers to provide £140 towards energy bills for some households on low incomes – to ensure a greater number of families in poverty are able to apply for and receive help with their energy bills.

In doing so, it has extended the Broader Group criteria to allow all families on low incomes – regardless of their work status – with children aged five and under, or disabled children of any age, to apply for help. Around 70,000 additional families are expected to benefit from these reforms.

Our next step is to lobby for these families to automatically qualify, as do poor pensioners, without the need to apply, although this will require extra funding for the scheme.

A growing number of food banks are implementing the Food Bank Plus service.

A growing number of supermarkets are redistributing their surplus food stocks to projects working with the hungry.

But there is lots still to do, and we are campaigning for further reforms across the board. For example:

We have written to the Cabinet Office asking whether the Government could write Living Wage clauses into public sector contracts put out to tender, and ensure no public service telephone line charges callers at a high rate.

We have asked the Department for Work and Pensions to introduce a time limit on the mandatory reconsideration process for ESA claimants found fit for work, to implement an electronic system through which new benefit claimants can submit supporting documentation, to introduce a new hotline for charities to call on behalf of vulnerable individuals regarding a benefit claim, and to ensure people are not left without money when they transfer from ESA to JSA.

We have asked the Department for Communities and Local Government to introduce as a minimum requirement for private landlords the provision of basic cooking facilities for their tenants.

We have asked the Department of Health to outlaw charges of up to £50 levied on claimants with disabilities when they ask their GP for documentation to support a benefit claim.

We have asked WRAP to set the food retail and manufacturing industries a target of doubling the proportion of surplus food rescued for human consumption, and to reduce overall levels of food waste.

We have asked Ofgem and each major energy supplier to establish a New Deal on Prepayment Meters, which protects the poorest households from being ripped off when paying for gas and electricity.

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