SCOTTISH Borders Council has been forced to defend its welfare track record after it emerged that it is ranked bottom in Scotland for providing crisis grants to people in financial emergencies.

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 percent 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 percent of applicants.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson asked the chamber: “Scottish Borders Council currently ranks bottom of the league table for awarding crisis grants from the Scottish Government-funded welfare fund, with only 38 percent of applicants being awarded grants and our average grant of £46 ranking as the lowest average payment of any Scottish council.

“Hows does the council explain our poor performance here?”

The council’s executive member for adult social care, Kelso and District councillor Tom Weatherston, replied: “Although the number of successful crisis grants is low, that alone does not indicate poor performance.

“Around 12% of applications are refused because there are other more appropriate forms of assistance available elsewhere.

“This is the result of us trying to find better outcomes for our welfare applicants.

“I am well aware that staff in this area have offered a holistic service to 851 applicants, and helped them with welfare advice and the maximisation of benefits.

“Ultimately, it is better to ensure that people get access to benefits they are correctly entitled to, rather than relying on crisis grants.

“97% of applicants were processed by the next working day, which is above the Scottish average, meaning applicants that were successful were given access to funds quickly.

“Whilst the success rate is relatively low, there is no indication of routinely incorrect decision making, and the number of successful appeals is extremely low.

“Notwithstanding this, I’d like to reassure members that officers are continually reviewing practices and procedures, and carrying out range of awareness sessions for key staff at Scottish Borders Council and partner organisations.

“The latest figures suggest an increased success rate and this will continue to be monitored.”

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% 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 percent 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.”