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VRF - Emergency Fund

From Monday 22nd February 2021 until Wednesday 31st March 2021 we will not be able to register new users on our online system, Flexi-Grant, while we process the new user registrations we have already received. If you have already registered with us and you are waiting for us to process your application, we will aim to do that during this period. 

St Martin’s Charity has launched a new Emergency Fund to meet the continuing challenges presented by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some services are struggling to provide existing services under lockdown measures, and the economic downturn is impacting on individuals and families. During the first wave of the pandemic we were able to provide £1.6 million of funds in a 6 month period to meet these gaps. Grants were available across the categories of Basic Essential Need, Overcoming Barriers to Support and Securing Accommodation. Following a successful BBC Radio 4 Christmas appeal, we have secured the funds to be able to relaunch this enhanced offer to meet these unprecedented times.

The previous VRF will overlap with the Emergency Fund to allow any uncompleted applications to be submitted by 19 February, but will then close while the Emergency Fund is operational.

We will review the ongoing need and available funding for the Emergency Fund at regular intervals.

Please see our FAQs below for more information about how to register with us and how to make an application:

 

1. About The Emergency Fund

1A. How can I contact you?

We are a small team, so before contacting us, ensure you have read through these FAQs carefully.  

You can email us on vrf@stmartinscharity.org.uk

Our number for voicemail only is 020 3795 5746

We can only accept calls and emails from frontline workers enquiring about our grants programme, not from members of the general public. 

For more about our opening hours, see our grant portal homepage.

 

1B. Do you offer advice?

We do not offer advice on housing or homelessness. 

 

2. What we fund

2A. What do you fund?

The VRF Emergency Fund can award grants under the following categories. We have given common examples for each of these:

Basic Essential Need

  • Food or hygiene packs
  • Utility bills
  • Clothes
  • Washing machine, fridge-freezer or cooker

Overcoming Barriers to Support

  • Mobile phone, credit or data to access support
  • Internet access to access support
  • Laptop or tablet to access support

Securing Accommodation

  • a deposit or rent in advance to access accommodation
  • moving costs for people moving from temporary to permanent accommodation
  • identification document in order to access accommodation
  • rent arrears where there is an imminent risk of eviction
  • hoarding/decluttering where there is an imminent risk of eviction

Before applying, please read our Pre-Grant Evidence information, here.

Please note we will not fund equipment to help children attend school or equipment or travel to help someone attend employment.

2B. How much can I apply for?

Basic Essential Need

Up to £250

Overcoming Barriers to Support

Up to £400

Securing Accommodation

Up to £1000 

 

However, in exceptional circumstances, we will consider more.

 

 

2C. Do you help with private tenancies?

Yes, we can provide deposits and rent in advance to help your client access a private tenancy. We also pay private tenancy arrears when this will prevent someone being evicted and made homeless.

2D. Do you help with debt relief orders/bankruptcy?

We can consider applications for debt relief order or bankruptcy fees where this would help someone access housing or prevent eviction.

We can make payments to the supporting organisation or directly to the accountant in bankruptcy or to the Insolvency Service.

2E. Do you help with hoarding/decluttering?

Yes, if it would prevent eviction and homelessness.

2F. I’m looking for help not covered by VRF’s grants

We recommend the Turn2Us database of grants for individuals - https://www.turn2us.org.uk/

For white goods, we recommend Glasspool Charity - http://www.glasspool.org.uk/

For educational resources for children, we recommend The Buttle Trust - https://www.buttleuk.org/

 

3. Eligibility

3A. Who do you help?

The VRF provides crisis grants for people who are:

- currently homeless or 

- at imminent risk of becoming homeless

They should not have more than £3,000 in savings. 

Applications should only be made to us as a last resort. The VRF has a strict daily budget that is oversubscribed. As it is a crisis fund, we will only approve applications where a grant will alleviate or prevent homelessness or assist those that are vulnerably housed. We do not make grants to simply reduce financial burden.

For more details, please read the Emergency Fund grant making policy.

3B. Who can apply?

We only accept applications from paid frontline workers providing support to people who are experiencing homelessness or vulnerable housing.

A frontline worker includes staff working in the Voluntary, Statutory and Public Sectors undertaking diverse roles including Resettlement or Outreach Workers, DWP workers, CAB advisers, Supported Housing Officers, Mental Health Teams, Drug and Alcohol Support, GP’s, Probation, Social Workers, Prison In-Reach Workers, Police, or Health professionals.

3C. Why can't people apply for a grant directly themselves?

By issuing the funds through frontline organisations and landlords, we can maintain a secure point of contact, receive receipts and ensure grants are spent as intended to help the people who need it most.

3D. Do you cover the whole UK?

Yes, we provide grants UK-wide.

3E. Why can’t we apply for a grant before notice of eviction is given?

We are not able to give grants simply to clear arrears - we can only give a grant where there is an evidenced and imminent threat of eviction and so need to know that a formal eviction process has been started and is not currently on hold. Normally, we would need to see the notice or order that has been served, and additional confirmation from the landlord that eviction will not proceed if a grant is awarded.

3F. Can I include several clients in one application?

We need individual applications for named clients. Eg if you have 15 clients who each need a mobile phone, we will need 15 separate applications.

4. Applying

4A. I’m homeless, can I apply for a grant?

We do not accept applications from members of the public. If you need a grant yourself, you will need to approach a support service (eg. a homelessness charity, your local authority's housing department or your local Citizens Advice service) and ask them to apply for you. We are not caseworkers and unfortunately cannot provide casework support ourselves. 

4B. What documentation is needed to support the application?

All applications must include a signed VRF client consent form. You must use our form to obtain consent. If you are unable to obtain written consent, you can use our verbal consent form to obtain verbal consent. Please click below to download our consent forms:
Applications to clear a client’s rent arrears must include an official written notice of eviction/ termination of a licence. If a court hearing is needed to end the tenancy, you must provide evidence that this is going ahead.

Applications to prevent eviction must include evidence that the grant will prevent the eviction from going ahead.

We can only accept evidence in certain formats.

Please see the Pre-Grant Evidence document for full details. 

4C. How do I make an application?

From Monday 22nd February 2021 until Wednesday 31st March 2021 we will not be able to register new users on our online system, Flexi-Grant, while we process the new user registrations we have already received. If you have already registered with us and you are waiting for us to process your application, we will aim to do that during this period. 

Before registering with us, please read our: 

Privacy Statement

We only accept applications through our online system Flexi-Grant. Go to https://smitf.flexigrant.com and follow the link to ‘register as a user’. Registration involves 3 steps:

  1. Provide your email address
  2. Confirm your email address (you will receive an email prompting you to do this – it may go into your spam folder so check there)
  3. Log in at https://smitf.flexigrant.com/login.aspx with your confirmed email address, select ‘Application Portal’ at the top left of the screen. Select the ‘New User Registration Form’ and fill in this form. This is NOT the grant application form.
  4. Wait 5 working days for us to process your registration form. We will email you with our decision.

Here is a user guide for the registration process.

Once you have completed this registration process, you can again log in to https://smitf.flexigrant.com/login.aspx and fill in a grant application form.

4D. When will I hear back from you?

Please allow three working days for your application to receive a response. We ask that you do not contact us within this time. The VRF is heavily oversubscribed and to ensure we treat all applications fairly, we do not respond to requests for an application to be fast-tracked.

Once the application is submitted, we are only able to discuss the application with the frontline worker submitting it and the manager named on the application. If you are about to go on annual leave or you know that you will not be available within this time-frame, please do not make an application. If you have a colleague that will be taking over in your absence, then they will need to have their own separate account to be able to make a referral on behalf of your client.

COVID-19 Update

We are currently working within our contingency plan which enables the team to work from home and process applications and emails as usual. We are still hoping to process applications within 3 working days, but please be aware that sometimes there might be a delay. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience during this time.

However, in order to minimise the risk of delays – we ask that you bear with us and only contact us with queries if absolutely necessary. When we experience high levels of general queries this does impact our turnaround time. Thank you for your patience and help at this time.  

We will update you if circumstances change.

4E. Why was my application unsuccessful?

The VRF is heavily oversubscribed and our team is small so unfortunately we don’t have the time and resources to give feedback about unsuccessful applications.

The most common reasons applications are unsuccessful are:

  • The client is ineligible eg. they are not homeless or at risk of homelessness
  • The application was made for support that VRF doesn’t offer eg. to reduce arrears 
  • Evidence was not provided eg. that the person is at risk of eviction
  • Evidence was not provided eg. that the grant will remove the risk of eviction
  • Evidence was not provided eg. that the client will be rehoused within two months (after clearing arrears to access social housing)
  • The consent form was not complete or not uploaded to the application
  • You did not use a VRF consent form
  • The case for support has not been made in the application or we have not been given enough information to make an informed decision. We need more than two sentences with general statements about the situation. You should explain what the need for the grant is, how it meets our eligibility criteria and how they will be able to avoid housing vulnerability in the future. 
  • The application is badly presented eg the client’s name is misspelled, irrelevant documents have been attached or other mistakes that may suggest the service may not provide the support the client will need for a successful tenancy.
  • The application was strong but other applications were stronger or would address more acute needs.

Unfortunately, even strong applications will be turned down from time to time.

4F. What does it mean if my grant is at "Current Stage: Offer"?

In Flexi-grant, if the status of your application is at "Current Stage: Offer" this means that your application has been successful and is waiting to be processed.

Please do not contact us during this time unless it has been more than 3 working days since you submitted your application. You will receive an email once the grant has been processed.

5. Successful applications

5A. Can you pay clients directly?

For most grants, we will not pay clients directly. We can make BACS payments to organisations or landlords. We will only consider paying clients directly if you can't get funds to them due to the COVID-19 lockdown. You will need to make a case for this in your application. 

5B. We were awarded a grant for a particular property, but due to a change of circumstances would like to use it for a different property. Is that allowed?

Yes.

5C. Does the grant have to be paid back to the VRF?

No. It is a grant, not a loan. 

However, if any portion of the grant is unspent, this needs to be returned to us using the 'Return funds to the VRF' form. 

5D. The grant is no longer needed, how can I return it?

We require unspent grants to be returned to us using the method by which they were originally paid. Almost all of our grants will be paid by BACS transfer, so they would need to be returned by BACS transfer. Full instructions for returning a grant can be found in the Application Portal using the form ‘Return funds to the VRF’.

6. Evidence

6A. What evidence will I need to provide when I apply?

At the point of application, you will be required to evidence the costs you are applying for.

For full details of the evidence you will be required to submit at application, see here:

Pre-Grant Evidence

6B. What evidence should I send you after the VRF grant has been awarded?

Once the funds have been spent, you must provide documentary evidence to the VRF that the funds have been used as set out in your application.

For full details of the evidence you will be required to submit after the grant, see here:

Post-Grant Evidence

 

6C. Why is my account suspended/locked?

As stated in our terms and conditions, by accepting a VRF grant you agree to provide us with evidence of how the grant was spent. See here for details of what evidence we need and how to upload it. If you are late submitting evidence without agreeing this with us first, or if there are queries about the evidence submitted, your account will be suspended. While suspended, you will not be able to apply for a VRF grant. You will be able to upload evidence whilst suspended, but unable to start or finish any applications.

Our policy is to permanently lock anyone who has had their account suspended more than twice in a 12 month period

6D. When will my suspended account be reactivated?

Once acceptable evidence has been submitted, we will email you to let you know your account has been reactivated.

Our policy is to permanently lock anyone who has had their account suspended more than twice in a 12 month period

7. Consent

Can I provide verbal consent? (COVID-19)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we can accept verbal consent if you are unable to provide written consent. You can download both the written and verbal consent forms below. A completed consent form will need to be uploaded onto your application.

VRF Written Consent Form

VRF Verbal Consent Form

 

Our Approach