Quick and Easy Help for Emergency Welfare: How Vouchers and Prepaid Cards Topped Cash

It will come as no surprise to anyone that we are living through one of the worst cost-of-living crises in decades. Inflation is at a 40-year high, taxes are continuing to creep up, and wages have stagnated. For many, there just simply isn’t enough money to pay for everyday essentials.

The government has tried to respond, setting up various emergency funds that those in need can access. But logistically, this isn’t as simple as handing out envelopes of cash or making instant transfers into bank accounts. The local authorities tasked with disbursing these funds were instantly faced with problems, from infrastructure to administration. When time is of the essence, and people need money to simply survive, any issues have to be handled as quickly as possible. Now, several years into these schemes, the number of people claiming is still continuing to rise.

Blackhawk Network conducted research to understand how claimants were being affected and how effective they found traditional and alternative methods of payment.

The recipient

Whether it was the Covid Winter Grant, the Household Support Fund, or one of the myriad other schemes set up, each one was implemented in a bid to help those in need. Although, from person to person and family to family, exactly what they needed help with varied. However, a running theme throughout, one that 97% of those Blackhawk Network asked agreed upon, was that they had to compromise and cut back on what they buy to make ends meet.

Of those surveyed, there were two standout areas that the majority used their support payments on. Food and supermarket items were the most common items (66%), while bills such as electricity, gas, water, or car insurance were second (56%). Next were rent (26%) clothing (23%), and household items like electronics, appliances and furniture (22%), with smaller percentages using payments for transport or travel costs (15%), and activities or entertainment (9%).

While food and heating are often more important than new clothing or household appliances, each one of these expenditures should be considered an essential. This makes it all the more critical that when funds are released to local councils for disbursal, they can be made available to those in need as quickly as possible.

The restrictions of traditional methods

When these funds were initially set up, central government decided that local councils were best placed to distribute them. However, the councils were not ready for the number of constituents they would be catering for, and instantly several problems occurred.

In many cases, this was due to administrative time and costs. Traditional methods of fund disbursal were cheques or BACS payments. However, councils were unable to store bank details, so there would be a lot of back-and-forth that would ultimately take a lot of time, increase the number of staff needed, and ramp up administrative costs. Once bank details were finalised, funds would take too long to reach those in need. Cheques need to be mailed out, cashed, and then cleared. And while BACS payments are quicker, they still take 3 working days. In the end, councils began exploring alternative methods like vouchers and prepaid cards.

Alternative methods of payment

The use of alternative payment methods showed almost instant improvements over traditional methods. The research from Blackhawk Network also found that both prepaid cards and vouchers had higher levels of positive feedback and lower levels of negative feedback than cheques. Vouchers were found to be vastly more popular than even direct transfer or cash – ranking as the best overall experience in comparison to other payment methods.

They also cut down on councils’ administrative costs. For vouchers, administrative costs were absorbed by the scheme providers, and the minimal set up costs for prepaid cards soon paid for themselves.

Speed is key

Speed of access to funds was the number one consideration among recipients. With cash, as many as 17% had waited for money for at least two weeks. Vouchers in particular solved these problems – 30% received theirs within a day or two.

Ease of Claiming

Alternative methods cut out the details negotiating that was previously holding disbursal back. Vouchers can be mailed or collected from a central point, while once the recipient has their prepaid bank card, it can be topped up by the council quickly and easily.


While cash is normally king, vouchers and prepaid cards have become welcome additions. Vouchers are accepted by a wide range of retailers that allow for all the essentials, while prepaid cards can be used anywhere that debit or credit cards can.

Ease of spending

This increase in choice is welcomed by recipients. Blackhawk Network’s research of over 1,000 claimants found that just 7% found vouchers difficult to redeem.
Blackhawk has been at the forefront of these innovations in payment methods, helping local councils to disburse emergency funds more quickly, and cutting administrative costs so that more of the money allocated for help can reach those who need it.

There is no doubt that hard times are ahead. Already, a further million people are expected to fall into poverty over the next year. A national survey found that almost one in five people (18%) is terrified about the current cost of living. With local authorities on standby to disburse emergency welfare funds, Blackhawk Network will be able to quickly provide them with alternative payment methods that can help alleviate pressure.

More Information:

To find out more please visit: blackhawknetwork.com

Public Sector Focus