SCOTTISH Borders Council has been ranked bottom in Scotland for providing crisis grants to people in hardship and financial emergencies.

New figures from the Scottish Government show that the authority has the lowest acceptance rate for crisis grants in Scotland, with just over one third of applicants being successful between April and June of this year.

The amount of people Scottish Borders Council turns away in a crisis is the highest in Scotland, with comparable councils such as Orkney giving crisis grants to 94 per cent of applicants over the same period.

Crisis grants are provided to help people who need money quickly due to an emergency or a disaster, and are funded by the Scottish Government as part of the Scottish Welfare Fund.

However, the eligibility of each applicant is determined by their local authority, and payments in the Borders are at the discretion of Scottish Borders Council, which has so far granted payments to just 38 per cent of applicants.

The Scottish Welfare Fund also includes community grant payments, which are intended to help individuals live independently in the community and pay for furniture, floor coverings and kitchen appliances.

Scottish Borders Council accepted just 37 per cent of community care grant applications which was the second lowest in Scotland, behind Clackmannanshire.

A spokesperson from the Scottish Government national statistics office said: “In the latest quarter from April to June 2018, local authorities received 16,175 applications for community care grants, and awarded £5.8m for items such as floor coverings, furniture and kitchen appliances.

“During the same quarter, local authorities received 45,290 applications for crisis grants, and awarded £2.3m for items such as food and essential heating costs.

“In total local authorities were allocated £33m for Scottish welfare fund awards in 2018/19, and have an estimated additional £2.3m in underspend carried forward from previous financial years.

“By June 2018, 23 per cent of these available funds had been spent, the same proportion as at June 2017.

“From when the Scottish welfare fund scheme began on 1 April 2013 until 30 June 2018, 306,305 individual households have received awards totalling £173m.”

Of the applicants who were successful in acquiring a crisis grant from Scottish Borders Council, the average payment was just £46, which was also the lowest average payment of any Scottish council.

Reacting to the figures, Councillor Heather Anderson (SNP, Tweeddale East) said: “As a local councillor I am concerned that our council is doing everything it can to alleviate the impact of Tory austerity and the roll out of universal credit across the Borders.

“I am therefore concerned that we are only spending around 63 per cent of the funds we receive directly from the Scottish Government through the Welfare Fund.

“In terms of spending the budget we are allocated, we are the second lowest in Scotland, why would this be?

“I am even more concerned that we have the lowest application acceptance rates for crisis grants in Scotland, with only 38 per cent of applications being accepted.

“Nationally the average acceptance rate is 68 per cent. We are almost the mirror image of the rest of Scotland, with nearly six out of ten people being refused help here, whilst in the rest of the country nearly seven out of ten people receive help. I need to understand why things are so different here in the Borders.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Scottish Borders Council has also seen an 11 per cent decrease in applications last year.

“We need to receive a full report on why there is such a discrepancy in the way we allocate our welfare funds here in the Borders and ensure we work harder to meet the needs of people locally.”

SBC said: “Scottish Borders Council aims to maximise income for everyone who is eligible for financial support.  

“Applications for crisis grants can be made online, by phone or face to face. 

“Applications are usually made though an appointment system over the phone to allow the applicant to explain their situation. 

“This allows a more robust decision making process compared with a solely paper based process and allows the decision maker to better take into account all of the claimant’s circumstances as well as signpost to other more appropriate assistance which may be available. 

“Bearing in mind the above, the main reason for refusal is that an applicant does not meet the qualifying conditions for an award.  This accounts for around 43 per cent of refusals. 

“However, Scottish Borders Council works with partner organisations to ensure that anyone who is potentially eligible makes an application.  

“Staff in the customer advice and support service have delivered awareness sessions to inform support workers, stakeholders and third sector about the scheme and other assistance which is available for vulnerable people and those on low incomes.  

“By encouraging applications it allows the decision maker to make a holistic decision if a Crisis Grant is the most suitable form of assistance and refer to other agencies where appropriate.”