Calls have been for Wales to have its own simplified benefits system after research showed that the poorest families in Wales are missing out on thousands of pounds of financial aid they are entitled to due to a “lack of information” and “complex system”.

The new research undertaken by the Bevan Foundation has revealed that “people across Wales are missing out on the financial lifeline offered by various grants and allowances administered by the Welsh Government and local authorities” and that a new system would put almost £75m back in the pockets of the poorest people in Wales.

From the Council Tax Reduction Scheme to the Education Maintenance Allowance, grants and allowances that complement the UK social security system and can be worth as much as £4,000 to a Welsh family are available but are either hard to get or not known about, the report said.

The Bevan Foundation said that due to the “complicated and disjointed system, in excess of £73m goes unclaimed each year” with a “complicated application process” seeing “thousands of people in Wales miss out on vital financial support each year.”

As part of its research, the Bevan Foundation tested people’s knowledge of seven key Welsh grants and allowances.

Of the seven main benefits, there were only two that a majority of people reported being aware of, the report said.

“The scheme that people had the greatest awareness of by far was Free School Meals,” the report said, with 77 per cent of respondents aware of the scheme.

The only other benefit where more than half of people reported being aware of it was the Council Tax Reduction Scheme at 58 per cent.

There were two Welsh benefits that fewer than one in five people reported being aware of, with only 19 per cent of people knowing about the Schools Essential Grant, and just 17 per cent aware of the Help with Health Costs scheme.

The Bevan Foundation said that the lack of knowledge of such schemes is leaving those in need without support they are entitled.

The report outlines that “despite various Welsh Government awareness raising campaigns, the proportion of people reporting that they were aware of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and the Schools Essentials Grant actually reduced slightly between 2022 and 2023.”

The Bevan Foundation said that it is “clear” there has been “no major improvement” in awareness of key Welsh benefits.

The report said that “new insights shared with the Bevan Foundation by people who’ve tried to apply for a grant or allowance highlight just how difficult it can be for people to get the help they need, and why there is an urgent need for reform.”

“A key barrier facing families across Wales is knowing what help is available,” the report said.

“With some families being entitled to four, five or even six different grants and allowances, administered by two or three different bodies, the charity says that it is not surprising that people are confused.

“Even when people are aware of the different schemes, the process of applying for each grant and allowance can be difficult.

“This process was described as a “battle” by many, with people having to submit multiple separate applications.

“Unsurprisingly this leads to people missing out, the impact of which is both financial and emotional.”

The complexity of applying for the various grants and allowances was described by people during the survey as “exhausting”, “time consuming” and “dehumanising.”

Working out eligibility for each person is “difficult” and some “simply give up”, the report said.

“Addressing the complexity of the application process for each Welsh benefit and taking action to improve people’s experiences of accessing their entitlements is vital if Welsh benefits are to provide a more effective lifeline for people on low incomes.

“Missing out on Welsh benefits does not only have an impact on people’s financial position.

“The strain that comes as a result of failing to submit a successful application can have significant effects on a person’s mental health and broader wellbeing.

“People should not feel like they have to battle to get access to Welsh benefits.

“People should be able to access their entitlements in an easy and timely manner.”

The Bevan Foundation said it has “long argued that the answer is to establish a Welsh Benefits System.”

“Such a system would see the various grants and allowances pulled together into one coherent system, making it easier for people to get vital cash help by submitting a single application, significantly reducing the number of hoops they have to leap through to get what is rightfully theirs,” the foundation report said.

The report said that “in order to boost awareness of Welsh benefits it is vital that we understand why people are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to.

Wales-only benefits

♦ Council Tax Reduction Scheme

Exempts low income households from having to pay council tax or provides a discount.

Free School Meals

Provides children from low income households with a free lunch in school. Provision is means tested in secondary schools.

Education Maintenance Allowance

A payment that supports a young person from a low income household to continue their education after the age of 16.

Further Education Grant

A grant to enable someone aged 19 or over who is on low income to entre further education.

■ School Essentials Grant

An annual cash grant of £120 for children from low income families in maintained schools (£200 for children entering year 7) to cover the cost of school uniform.

Help with Health Costs

Support for people on low income to cover the costs of services that are not provided free through the NHS.

Healthy Start vouchers

Vouchers to purchase fruit and vegetables or milk formula during pregnancy and child’s early years.

“There appear to be two linked reasons for people’s lack of awareness: the lack of readily available information about each grant and allowance, and the complexity of the current system,” the foundation’s report said.

“The most direct impact a lack of awareness has on people is that they miss out on financial assistance that they are entitled to.

“The value of the benefits that people miss out on can often be significant.”

The report said that the foundation heard about “several people who has missed out on significant levels of benefits”, with some pushed into debt that could have been erased if they knew of such schemes.

“People can be pushed into significant financial hardship by missing out on grants and allowances they are entitled to,” the report said.

“Traditionally the reactions to such findings may have been to call for an awareness raising campaign.

“While such campaigns do have a role to play, there are inherent limitations to how much they can achieve without broader system reform.

“Developing a unified, coherent Welsh Benefits System is therefore vital if we are to boost awareness of Welsh Benefits.

“It will reduce the number of individual grants and allowances people need to be aware of to receive their full entitlement and increase the possibility of people being given the right information at the right time.”

The Bevan Foundation also called for a review of eligibility to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from grants and allowance, with qualification thresholds unmoved for several years.

“For Welsh benefits to effectively support low income households then they must be available as of right to all low-income households,” the report added.

“It is also vital to have systems in place to automatically up-lift the cash value of the various grants and allowances.

“Without such a system Welsh benefits offer less and less to people with every passing year, undermining their effectiveness as a lifeline.”

The Bevan Foundation’s Head of Policy (Poverty), Dr Steffan Evans argued that the findings of the report “highlighted the need to establish a Welsh Benefits System at pace.”

“The Bevan Foundation’s calls to establish a Welsh Benefits System have won support from all quarters, including political support, support from the third sector and from Welsh Government Ministers,” he said.

“Yet as we enter 2024 such a system has still not been established.

“As this report has vividly highlighted, the failure to establish a Welsh Benefits System has a real impact on Welsh families.

“Whilst it is welcome that our call to establish such a system has been warmly received, 2024 must be the year that real progress is made in implementing a Welsh Benefits System that works for everyone.”

The report concluded: “Welsh benefits are of critical importance to the people of Wales.

“There is little doubt that were it not for the support provided by Welsh benefits that the number of people living in hardship would be even higher than it is today.

“By ensuring that a system of support is in place that complements the support available through the UK social security system, the Welsh Government and local authorities are not only protecting people in Wales from poverty, but they are also reducing demand on public services.

“There is clearly a desire from everyone with a stake in Welsh benefits to make them work better for the people of Wales.”